LOGAN — The 2012 football season is half over for Utah State. The Aggies now move from the non-conference portion of their schedule and into their final season of Western Athletic Conference play. Appropriately enough, the Aggies will start off with San Jose State (4-1), who will also be moving from the WAC to the Mountain West in 2013.
The 4-2 record that Utah State posted in non-league play shows how far the program has come under head coach Gary Andersen, now in his fourth year. Prior to 2011's 7-6 campaign, you'd have to go back to 2000 to find an Aggie team that won more than four games in an entire season.
While the four non-conference wins are something to celebrate, the two losses still sting, and will all season. Just five points, two in Wisconsin and three more in Provo, keep the Aggies from being undefeated.
As much as the loss to BYU hurts, the team has moved on from the setback and onto its preseason goal of winning the conference.
"BYU is always going to be in the back of my head, but I'm excited to start WAC play and get started with the season," wide receiver Matt Austin said. "We always break our huddle since day one with 'WAC champs' and that has always been our goal, and then to get to a bowl game after that."
Even though non-conference play is in the rearview mirror, don't expect the close finishes being something of the past. Utah State's battles with San Jose State the last two years have been thrilling finishes for the Aggies.
In 2010, Utah State broke through with its first road win under Andersen at San Jose with a 38-34 victory. The winning score came on a touchdown run with 34 seconds remaining. Last season, the Spartans were again on the wrong side of a late USU comeback. The Aggies erased a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter, capped off by a touchdown catch from Adam Kennedy to Matt Austin with just 47 ticks on the clock.
"We go back two years and they have been battles," Andersen said. "They have had the lead in the fourth quarter for the last two years and we have found a way to make some plays and win the game. So it is going to be a tough, hard-fought game."
The Spartans, much like Utah State, are on an upward trajectory after spending the last few years as a conference doormat. San Jose State's single loss this season came at No. 21 Stanford by a field goal on the first weekend of the season.
"I like San Jose State's football team. They play hard, they like to play football and I think they are very well coached," Andersen said. "It will be a tremendous challenge, and the key for us is to take care of the Aggies."
If non-conference results are to be trusted, San Jose State, Utah State and Louisiana Tech appear to be a cut above the rest of the conference. A road win against the Spartans would give the Aggies an early leg up and put themselves in great position to reach their preseason goal to be the final WAC football champion.