SALT LAKE CITY — Maybe it's a sign of respect, or maybe it's something to be ignored — as coaches claim they always do with such things — but Utah State is at a place it hasn't been since entering the Western Athletic Conference in 2005.
The Aggies, struggling for years to field a winning football team, have been predicted to finish in the top half of the conference standings.
"Being picked fourth by the coaches is a terrific sign of respect from the coaches in the conference, which to me is important," Utah State coach Gary Andersen said after USU came in behind Boise State, Nevada and Fresno State in the preseason poll. "I think that is something that our team can look at as a positive in that they're gaining the respect of the coaches in the league, and that's important."
The Aggies still have a bit of work to do in convincing the media that covers the conference that they are for real, though. USU landed at sixth in that poll.
Which, Andersen said, shows what he's believed for years.
"Preseason polls really don't mean anything, but everybody looks at them and everyone talks about them," he said. "Our focus is to finish the summer the right way and get ready for a great fall camp."
It came as no surprise to see Boise State at the top of the polls. The Broncos have dominated the WAC over the past decade and will be headed to the Mountain West Conference after this season. BSU received eight of nine first-place votes in the coaches poll — Broncos coach Chris Petersen was not allowed to vote for his own team — and 42 of 43 votes from the media.
USU quarterback Diondre Borel was pleased with what he saw from the coaches.
"It shows that we're starting to earn respect," Borel said. "It shows that we're being taken more seriously and we're a better team."
Fourth is the highest USU has ever been voted in the WAC preseason polls, but even with starting running back Robert Turbin sidelined with an ACL injury, the Aggies return 20 starters and 45 lettermen from a team that finished 4-8 overall and 3-5 in the WAC.
"Hopefully, that our team will look at that and grasp it as a challenge," Andersen said.
Finishing in the top four, would likely mean a trip to one of the WAC's four bowl spots and another surge in confidence for the Aggies.
"The top three teams are pretty much what I would expect to be," Andersen said, "and after that, we're all just in the mix of beating each other and going back and forth, and we're all lumped in there at the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh spots, and that's where we sit."
USU will open its fall camp Aug. 9 and begin preparing for the 2010 opener at Big 12 powerhouse Oklahoma on Sept. 4.
WAC Coaches Poll
(First-place votes in parentheses)
Rank School Points
1. Boise State (8) 64
2. Nevada (1) 55
3. Fresno State 50
4. Utah State 37
5. Hawaii 36
6. Idaho 33
7. Louisiana Tech 26
8. New Mexico State 14
9. San Jose State 9
WAC Media Poll
Rank School Points
1. Boise State (42) 386
2. Nevada (1) 333
3. Fresno State 300
4. Idaho 207
5. Louisiana Tech 200
6. Utah State 196
7. Hawaii 166
8. New Mexico State 81
9. San Jose State 66