Utah is out of the bowl picture and Utah State is almost in the Mountain West football championship game. Either of those outcomes would have seemed ridiculous, as of Oct. 12.
That’s the night when Utah upset Stanford and USU was overwhelmed by Boise State in the Aggies’ first game without injured quarterback Chuckie Keeton. Since then, the Utes have lost five straight games and the Aggies have won four in a row.
Obviously, the quality of opponents helps explain what happened. Utah remained in the meat of its Pac-12 schedule and USU’s degree of difficulty eased considerably. But the results are still remarkable, in both cases.
After beating Stanford, Utah stood 4-2 overall. And even with quarterback Travis Wilson’s hand injury sidelining him in the second half at Arizona, the Utes held a 21-20 lead and were in Arizona territory late in the third quarter. At the moment, would anyone have believed Utah would be 4-7?
As for USU, freshman quarterback Darell Garretson’s second-half performance in a 34-19 loss to Boise State was mildly encouraging, after he replaced Craig Harrison. But the Aggies were 3-4 and had lost four offensive starters, including Keeton. So even if they were playing New Mexico, Hawaii, UNLV and Colorado State, I doubt anyone counted on them winning four straight. Merely becoming bowl-eligible seemed like an achievement at that point.
And now, the Aggies are positioned to win the MW’s Mountain division title, if they can beat Wyoming on Saturday in Logan. USU got a big break when Boise State lost to San Diego State in overtime, and the conference’s scheduling rotation is a key factor. The Aggies missed Fresno State and SDSU, the teams that beat the Broncos. But credit USU with doing its part, responding well to Keeton’s injury.
Even if they lose to Fresno State in the MW championship game, the Aggies should land one of the conference’s top bowl berths.
As for Utah, a victory over Colorado on Saturday would result in another 5-7 finish, one win short of bowl eligibility. In that context, an overtime loss to Oregon State in September will haunt the Utes, because a fourth-down stop could have preserved their one-point lead in regulation. Losing by one point to Pac-12 South champion Arizona State after leading by12 in the fourth quarter is another case of a game that got away from Utah, ultimately resulting in another losing season.
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