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Utah State football: Boise State provides MW blueprint for Aggies

USU hoping to become next big midmajor program

First Published Oct 10 2013 05:18 pm • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:35 pm

Logan • It’s the height of cliché: The Aggies football team talks every week about how much it respects its next opponent.

However, that cookie-cutter statement rings genuine this week as Utah State prepares to face Boise State Saturday at Romney Stadium. USU’s players and coaches don’t just respect the Broncos — they want to become them.

At a glance

Utah State vs. Boise State

The Aggies still have a long way to climb to reach some key marks of Boise State’s program:

2012 athletic revenues*

Broncos » $43,440,905

Aggies » $21,061,242

2013 football season ticket sales

Broncos » 22,422**

Aggies » 10,017*

2010-13 football record

Broncos » 38-6

Aggies » 25-19

*Source: USA Today database**Source: Idaho Press-Tribune.

Utah State athletics donations

Year Donors Donations

2008 1,308 $1,785,703

2009 1,234 $3,022,306

2010 1,455 $3,476,489

2011 1,436 $4,703,651

2012 1,461 $5,426,732

*Source: USU athletics

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"I said the minute we got into the Mountain West that they are the program we all want to model ourselves after," Utah State coach Matt Wells said. "From a consistency standpoint, from an effort standpoint and a toughness standpoint, I think they do a great job."

Utah State isn’t prepared to dye its field bright blue, but there’s plenty about Boise State the Aggies would like to emulate: Consistent success and national relevance chief among them. The Broncos offer a glimpse of what Utah State hopes to achieve: the next up-and-coming mid-major.

The story of the Broncos is one of a steady ascent since joining the ranks of four-year institutions in 1968. From Division II, to Division I-A, to the Football Bowl Subdivision, Boise State has been growing its program over the last half-century to become one of the biggest brands in mid-major conference football, and a national brand.

Broncos coach Chris Petersen has compiled an 85-10 record at Boise since 2006, including a pair of BCS wins in the Fiesta Bowl. Although the Broncos quickly dropped out of the top 25 this year with losses to Washington and Fresno State, they remain the standard of excellence for every non-BCS program.

Naturally, everyone is gunning for them.

"We know that we have a target on our backs out there," Petersen said. "Everything you do at this level, other guys are going to want to do, too. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot."

There are some fundamental differences between Boise State and Utah State, not the least of which is a sizeable revenue gap. The Broncos doubled the Aggies in revenue dollars last year. In addition, they inhabit a city more than four times the size of Logan, and they’re the biggest show in Idaho while Utah State plays third fiddle to Utah and BYU in popularity.

Since taking over as athletic director in 2008, however, Scott Barnes said he has never let Utah State’s perceived limitations guide the direction of his vision.

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"The question we ask ourselves all the time is this: ‘Are we prepared for success?’ Barnes said. "Once we have it, we need the plan in place to capitalize on that success."

Winning football games is the most critical element of Utah State’s growth — Barnes called it "the rising tide that floats all ships" — but it is merely one prong in USU’s aggressive growth strategy.

The Aggies aren’t waiting for when the tide recedes. Utah State has gone harder than ever after ticket sales, last year hiring a firm, Ticketing Solutions, to expand the base. After an 11-2 season in 2012, the school has sold 10,017 season tickets for 2013, a 66 percent increase from a year ago.

Utah State hasn’t been shy about chasing donations, either. One of Barnes’ biggest priorities was establishing a "major gift culture" at Utah State, something he credits Jim Laub — one of the deepest-pocketed Aggies boosters — with pioneering. Large gifts have helped build a football center and new weight room, as well as break ground on a new basketball and volleyball facility.

But even beyond the big gifts, Barnes said smaller contributions also have been key, especially since there’s been more of them. Barnes credited his development team with growing the program’s donor base to 1,461 people who gave more than $5.4 million last year — more than three times the donation sum in 2008.

"When you have trust in something, you tend to want to invest in it," Barnes said. "We’ve worked very, very hard to deliver more than we’ve promised. We’ve built some trust and credibility there."

There are other parts to Utah State’s blueprint that have increased exposure for the program. An image overhaul with Nike updated the school’s athletic brand, and games against a range of power conference teams — Oklahoma, Auburn, Wisconsin and USC — opened doors in different parts of the country.

Future plans to compete with the Boise States of the world means staying tenacious. Barnes said athletics will be investing more in the fan experience over the next decade, which he hopes will include improvements to Romney Stadium.

Barnes still wants to close the budget gap between Utah State and the rest of the Mountain West. According to a USA Today report this year, the average revenue for a Mountain West school in 2012 was a little more than $35 million. Boise State is on the upper end of that scale, with more than $43 million in revenue. Utah State hovered at just over $21 million — near the bottom of the league.

Barnes said that gap will decrease as the Aggies ramp up in the revenues they receive from the Mountain West and other areas. Utah State hopes that Boise State will be more of a peer than a model in time.

"You always want a little more," Barnes said. "You always want to grow a little faster. We’re pleased with the progress, but we need to continue to grow. It’s not where it needs to be."

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Boise State at Utah State

Saturday, 6 p.m.

TV » CBS Sports Network

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