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Jay Drew
Jay covers BYU athletics for The Salt Lake Tribune. You can follow him on Twitter @drewjay.

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Thoughts from Falslev, Poppinga on BYU-Utah State rivalry

I get asked about it all the time, especially by Utah State fans. Does BYU consider the Aggies a rival in football?

My reply: After what happened in 2010 (USU's 31-16 win), absolutely.

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Here's more on how much respect BYU coaches and players are giving the Aggies this week, as Friday's showdown approaches.

I talked to BYU linebackers coach Kelly Poppinga last night to get his perspective on the rivalry. Why Poppinga? He began his college football career at Utah State before transferring to BYU. His older brother played football for Utah State and his sister played volleyball for the Aggies.

I asked Poppinga if he ever thought the time would come when USU would be favored to beat BYU. The Aggies are 6-point favorites at Romney Stadium.

"When I was there, when you played BYU and Utah, it was a big deal," Poppinga said. "So man, it was always like, 'we are the underdogs, we are going against BYU or Utah, going for the upset.'

Now that they are 6-point favorites, or something like that, and we are the actual underdogs on paper, the roles have been reversed a little bit, so that's interesting.

But it is a tough place to play no matter what -- even back in the day when BYU was dominant, they would go up there and they would struggle. So it is a hard place to play, the crowd, now that they have been playing really well, the crowd is into it just like they are in basketball."

Having grown up in the Cache Valley, BYU kick returner and inside receiver JD Falslev is also familiar with the hate-everything-about-BYU culture that permeates Utah State. You can read more about Falslev's USU roots in this piece in today's Tribune.

Falslev said Monday that with BYU and Utah not playing the next two years, the BYU-Utah State rivalry will grow even more heated.

"I think it is going to be our biggest rivalry, to be honest. We would love to play Utah, honestly, and I know the guys are feeling bad about not being able to play them. But at the same time, we love to play Utah State every single year," he said.

Falslev was asked why so much hostility, hate and anger emanates from Logan.

"It is a rivalry game, and I think the rivalry especially in the last couple of years has really revamped itself, and Utah State has had a great tradition, and they are a great team," he said. "We respect them. We know that they are going to come play hard, be a physical team, and really try to take it right down to the wire.

I mean, you look at the last three or four years with them, it has been right down to the wire, just like the Utah game. So I don't know if it is hate, but it is just a rivalry game, and that's what happens in rivalry games."

Which is the more hostile environment, Utah or Utah State?

"They are both hostile environments," Falslev said. "It is going to be loud. It is going to be crazy, and the fans are going to be all over us, and that's what we love. We love to compete in environments like that. We love to go in and play our very best when we play tough opponents, and so it is going to be a hostile environment, but at the same time it will have a lot of emotion and we got to keep that in check and execute and we will be just fine."

A few leftover comments from Falslev:

On what the Aggies are like this year:

"They are a great team. Every dude tries their very, very best on every play. They have lost a couple games that were really close. We have to be prepared for anything, and we know they are going to come play hard, and we are going to do the same thing."

On having coach Bronco Mendenhall's support after the miscues on the punt returns:

"It means a lot, because he could have easily taken me out. He could have easily lost confidence in me. So it boosts my confidence tremendously to have him continue to have my back, and that's what every coach here does. They know we are going to make mistakes, and they continue to try to lift us up and correct us at the same time. But to have coach Mendenhall's confidence in me like that means a whole lot."

On whether they want to beat USU as badly as they wanted to beat Utah:

"Yeah, pretty close, especially for me because it is going home. But every game I have to treat the same. It is hard to say 'mean more,' because they all mean a lot to me, but this one has a little extra oomph into it, just because I am going home and playing in front of all my family and friends probably for the last time. Because they had some impact on my life growing up, so to be able to go back to my hometown and see everybody and play in front of them is a cool deal."

On USU's facilities:

"They are top notch. They are some of the best in the country. So they've done a nice job of doing that for recruiting sake, and for their players, and I am happy for them."

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