Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
LOGAN — It wasn't a passing night train, wasn't construction noise, either. It was the student section bellowing "Win!" in the direction of the Aggie bench and "Lose!" in the direction of UNLV's.
For a change, it wasn't even the basketball crowd at the Spectrum making the racket.
This isn't your father's Utah State University football team. On second thought, maybe it is. It's been almost that long since USU could say with any degree of certainty that might be the best team in Utah.
Now the Aggies have a chance prove it. They can settle it on Friday at LaVell Edwards against BYU. One thing seems clear: USU-BYU isn't for laughs anymore. The Cougars are coming off a 47-0 rout of Hawaii. And after a 35-13 win over UNLV on Saturday, Utah State is off to its best start (4-1) since 1978.
"We feel right now as a player, we expect to win every game," said running back Kerwynn Williams. "We're just excited with the direction we're going."
So bring it on, Riley Bowl II: Return of the Rottweiler. Former Aggie and current BYU quarterback Riley Nelson came off the bench last year to edge USU and launch his career as a feisty BYU quarterback. This year he might not even play due to a back injury, though Cougar coach Bronco Mendenhalll insists Nelson is still his starter.
Either way, the USU-BYU game has drama to burn. That much was obvious on Saturday in Logan, where the house was packed for USU's game against the Rebels. The students launched into their routing by chanting in unison, "I believe that we will win!"
But unlike most football years, this time they really do believe it.
It was certainly a rare and slightly incongruous sight. For much of the last 40 years, Romney Stadium on game day has looked like the pet food aisle at the supermarket – only an occasional visitor. But Saturday's game was only a thousand people shy of a sellout. At USU basketball, when organizers call for white shirts, they get white shirts – and plenty of them. Now there appears to be significant spillover to football. It wasn't just the student section, either. It was everyone, from the nosebleed section to the big donors, wearing white.
It has taken a long time to get here. Last time the Aggies sold out for a non-BYU or Utah game was in 2001. That year Oregon came to Logan ranked No. 6 and finished the season at No. 2. But even that was only ninth on the all-time attendance list.
So to basically fill the stadium against a team like UNLV was not only a surprise, it was an inspiration. USU almost never sells out, unless the opponents bring along their fans. Of the top 16 crowds in stadium history, only Oregon (2001) and Wyoming (2001, 2003) didn't involve instate games.
In 2012, USU didn't disappoint. Williams gained more yards via the air (147) than any running back since 1959, back in the days of Tommy Larscheid. They turned short passes into gains of 74 and 55 yards for touchdowns, and tacked on a safety just for the fun of it.
USU finished with an impressive 564 yards in total offense.
Which brings the Aggies to Friday's game with BYU. Back when the Cougars were dominating the series, USU was merely trying to keep out of the way.
"It will be exciting, it definitely has been the last two years," said USU coach Gary Andersen. "Both teams expect to win."
Meanwhile, the Aggies have now defeated teams from the Pac-12 (Utah), Mountain West (CSU, UNLV) and scared the cheese out of Wisconsin (14-16). Next comes BYU, where the Ags will have the chance to win the Beehive Boot trophy, the almost-forgotten symbol of instate supremacy.
As the Aggie student section loves to chant, they believe — really believe — that they will win.
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