Logan • Several Aggies have said it this week: In the biggest games, Utah State plays its best.
The catch: In the last few years, the team's best has not been enough to win.
It's a special brand of anguish for the Utah State football team. They've come so close to upsetting major-conference opponents four seasons in a row, only to go home with the loss and a paycheck that's how most "money" games are supposed to work anyway.
This year, a moral victory isn't enough. The Aggies go into Los Angeles hoping USC is the titan to finally fall.
"I think it would be a milestone for the program," coach Matt Wells said. "It would be a benchmark and it would be huge. All that stuff is an understatement."
Utah State has hung on the cusp of that signature win since Gary Andersen took over the program, one of the few things the former coach wasn't able to accomplish. The list is long, one that any blue-blooded Aggies fan can recite from memory.
The team has always come up a play short from victory, or maybe one bumble too many. Against Texas A&M, it was a fumble that ended the last drive. Against Oklahoma, Utah State couldn't score in the final quarter at all. The effort against Wisconsin last year ended with a missed go-ahead field goal with six seconds left.
Falling to Auburn in 2011 still takes the cake in Utah State's Mount Rushmore of disappointment. The Aggies had the game all but in hand, up 10 with three minutes to go. The then-defending national champs scored on a quick touchdown drive, recovered an onside kick, then another touchdown by Michael Dyer turned a sure win into a gut-wrenching 42-38 defeat.
It's a pick-your-own-agony platter of memories. The Aggies are carrying that baggage with them still, hoping to leave it at the Coliseum this week.
"In the back of my head, I've thought about all those memories," said D.J. Tialavea, a senior tight end who has been around for each defeat. "We've brought it up amongst each other: That feeling that we had after Wisconsin last year, we don't want to have that again."
Since Wisconsin, the Aggies have won 11 out of their last 13 games. Even with Matt Wells taking over as head coach, Utah State's consistent approach to games, the Aggies say, has guided them to success.
The program doesn't particularly identify with the scrappy underdog any longer. This may be the game when the Aggies come in truly expecting to win.
"The fighting mentality has always been there you've seen it," running back Joey DeMartino said. "It's always been one play that has turned it around for us that didn't get us the victory we needed. We're ready to go in all phases and we're not going to shy away from this game."
It will take more than confidence for the program to unstick itself from its unfortunate label, the "Gaggies."
Utah State's game plan will have to utilize its offensive weapons, particularly quarterback Chuckie Keeton. Special teams coach Dave Ungerer said this week his units have been preparing since the spring for this game, and the Aggies hope to limit the errors in that phase that have dogged them in the past in fact, they hope to make a few big special teams plays themselves.
The past will always bring questions, particularly "what if." If Utah State can succeed this weekend, they'll be no need to look back and wonder anymore.
"They have some big guys, but even the mightiest crumble," running back Joe Hill said. "We're going to attack them."
The Aggies' toughest memories
Some of the most frustrating losses against AQ conference opponents:
Texas A&M 38, Utah State 30 • Aggies recovered an onside kick with less than a minute left, but fumbled on the final drive.
Oklahoma 31, Utah State 24 • Aggies couldn't score in the fourth quarter, with their final drive ending on an interception.
Auburn 42, Utah State 38 • Gave up two touchdown drives in the final three minutes, and couldn't stop an onside kick
Wisconsin 16, Utah State 14 • Missed a go-ahead field goal with six seconds remaining.
Utah State at USC
P Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV • Ch. 4