It never ceases to amaze how much a season can change in just one game. Teams can go from having confidence to being in despair awfully fast.
After their loss to Boise State in mid-October, it didn't look like the Utah State Aggies had much to cheer about. Many wrote the season off with the loss of quarterback Chuckie Keeton and several other key starters to injuries.
Winning the Mountain West Conference championship, an often-stated goal of the team, seemed like a pipe dream amidst the dour circumstances.
Now in late November, it's a completely different story.
After shutting out Colorado State 13-0 last Saturday, the Aggies must be grinning ear to ear, especially after Boise State's loss to San Diego State later that night thanks to a couple of key plays.
Boise's well-documented kicking problems showed up again when kicker Dan Goodale missed a 43-yard potential game-winner and the game went into overtime. Then a ridiculously precise pass from Aztec QB Quinn Kaehler to Colin Lockett sealed the deal for SDSU.
The loss now puts the Broncos behind Utah State in the Mountain Division standings. This scenario seemed nigh impossible just a few weeks ago, even after Boise State lost QB Joe Southwick to a basically season-ending injury.
Utah State is in good position to lock up the Mountain Division and face the BCS hopeful Fresno State Bulldogs in the MWC title game, but the Aggies must first defeat Wyoming Saturday to get that chance.
So how has Wyoming been this season? In a word — inconsistent.
Unfortunately for Wyoming, this has been a hallmark under head coach Dave Christensen. The Pokes went bowling in 2009 and 2011, but not in 2010 and 2012.
Wyoming started off this season with a heartbreaking, albeit promising, loss to Nebraska. The Cowboys actually outgained the Cornhuskers, and junior quarterback Brett Smith nearly pulled off a miracle pass at the end of the game.
Following the Nebraska loss, Wyoming responded with three convincing victories over Idaho, Northern Colorado and Air Force. But then the Cowboys got blasted by Texas State after an extensive lightning delay slowed the game.
Since losing to Texas State, the Pokes have won only two of their last six contests, leaving them with no more room for error, so the road to bowl eligibility passes through Romney Stadium.
Running back Shaun Wick is helping out Smith in the rushing game. The sophomore has rushed for 939 yards and nine touchdowns, and has proven himself as a reliable weapon for the Cowboys' offense. He has broken some big runs, too, so the Aggie defense will need to be on its toes.
In the receiving corps, Smith's favorite targets have been Robert Herron and Dominic Rufran. Herron has caught 68 balls for 929 yards and nine touchdowns, while Rufran has 71 receptions for 868 yards and seven touchdowns.
Smith has made some clutch throws with this pair and it should prove to be a tough challenge for the Aggies' secondary. Jalen Claiborne has proven a viable receiving threat for Smith as well.
As strong as Wyoming's offense has looked this season, its defense is another story. The Cowboys currently rank 114th in total defense, allowing 497 yards per game. They have also given up more than 36 points per game, one of the worst in the country. Perhaps worst of all, Wyoming's rushing defense has been shredded to the tune of 226 yards per game.
Despite the rough defensive stats, there are a couple of standout players in linebacker Jordan Stanton, who leads the team in total tackles with 123, and cornerback Marqueston Huff, who isn't far behind with 107. The team as a whole has struggled to get stops, but when it does, these players usually have something to do with it.
The Aggies have a lot on the line with this game: a win gets them to the Mountain West Conference championship game, but a loss would mean just going to a bowl game.26 comments on this story
Not a bad situation either way, but the offense will need to perform much better than it did against Colorado State. A spectacular defense can only carry a team so far, especially against an explosive offense that Wyoming happens to boast.
So what can we expect from the Cowboys? Plenty of offense and a chip on their shoulder. They will come ready for a fight, and since they are only one win away from bowl eligibility, this should give them extra motivation.
If the Pokes can't get any defensive stops though, they better hope they can outscore the Aggies in a shootout.
Sam McConkie is a technical and professional writing graduate from Utah State University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org