Brad Rock: Best in-state football schedule to watch will be Utah State
Tom Smart, Deseret News, Tom Smart, Deseret News, Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — That Texas-BYU football game looks like a doozy. BYU-Boise State could be one for posterity. Playing Wisconsin and Notre Dame in the same year, well, the Cougars must have a superhero complex.
Then there’s Utah’s schedule: five ranked teams, including Nos. 3 and 4, Oregon and Stanford. Nationally ranked USC, Oregon State and UCLA are frosting on the cake — or salt on the wounds, depending on the outcome.
If you don’t like those schedules, go back to watching C-SPAN.
But if you really want close games and edge-of-your-seat suspense, the best schedule in the state this year is neither Utah’s nor BYU’s. It’s Utah State’s.
The Aggies don’t have the biggest lineup of fall blockbusters. But almost all their games have a questionable outcome.
There’s nothing as thrilling as working without a net.
Six of BYU’s and eight of Utah’s opponents are either top 25 or in the “also receiving votes” category, so the Cougars and Utes sweep the glamour awards. At the same time, their games are mostly predictable — either likely losses or probable wins.
For bump-in-the-night suspense, you have to go with USU.
This has Aggie coach Matt Wells in full one-game-at-a-time mode as he prepares for Thursday’s season-opener against Utah.
“I think there's urgency in the program whether we're playing Utah or anybody else,” he said. “(The Utes) happen to be first on the schedule there's a sense of urgency in this program and there has been since I walked in here. We practice fast and everything we do is fast. I think we have a sense of urgency at all times here.”
A sense of mystery, too.
While USU is picked second to Boise State in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division, the situation is similar to the one Utah faced when it entered the Pac-12. Utah was also picked to challenge for its division in its first year, having done well against Pac-10 schools in preceding years. It’s true the Aggies are playing teams they’ve beaten in the past, but every week will be a considerable challenge.
The only lockdown win for USU is Weber State, Sept. 14. The bookable losses: No. 24 at USC on Sept. 21 and No. 19 Boise State on Oct. 12. Everything else could go either way: Utah, Air Force, San Jose State, BYU, New Mexico, Hawaii, UNLV, Colorado State and Wyoming. Excepting BSU, the Mountain West games are against similar programs with similar talent.
Although UNLV, New Mexico, Colorado State, Wyoming and Hawaii were just a combined 18-45 last year, historically the Aggies have winning records against just two (Wyoming, UNLV), losing records against two (CSU, New Mexico) and an even record against one (Hawaii).
So USU has just three games in which the outcome seems solidly predictable.
The number of bankable wins for BYU is three (Middle Tennessee, Houston, Idaho State), same as the number of almost certain losses (Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Texas).
Utah is a lock in its game against Weber State, while Stanford, Oregon, USC, UCLA, Arizona State and Oregon State are likely losses.
BYU has a half-dozen games that are up for debate, Utah four or five and Utah State eight or nine.
This might be news to the Aggies, who are still feeling the charge of an 11-win season, best in their history. But with no Idahos, Texas States or New Mexico States around, much is in doubt. USU’s season is as unreadable as Stonehenge, which makes it all the more appealing.
Fans have long wondered how the school would fare on a regular basis against old Skyline Conference opponents Colorado State, New Mexico and Wyoming.
No need to wait longer.
The Aggies lucked out on the scheduling, since they don’t play either Fresno State or San Diego State. The conference schedule includes a variety of mid- and low-level MWC teams, plus Boise. But the bottom of the MWC is better than half the teams the Aggies used to play in the WAC.
This could be a 10-win season for USU, or a three-win season.
By that measure alone it should be highly watchable football.
Everything’s better with a healthy dose of suspense.
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