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Utah State football: 'It's the most exciting, best time ever to be an Aggie,' Wells says

Published: Sunday, Aug. 24 2014 9:55 a.m. MDT

Utah State Aggies head coach Matt Wells hugs Utah State Aggies nose tackle AJ Pataiali'i (56) during the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013. USU won 21-14.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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LOGAN — This is a bold, glorious new era in the history of Utah State University's football program.

The Aggies are no longer a distant third in the Beehive State's pecking order. They are steadily closing the gap on their in-state big brothers to the south, BYU and the University of Utah, and are riding a run of success that Cache Valley hasn't seen in four decades.

Entering the 2014 campaign, Utah State has posted three consecutive winning seasons. Sure, that'd be a "big deal, so what?" accomplishment in Provo, where the Cougars' losing seasons under former coach Gary Crowton were the exception, not the rule, in an amazing 40-year run that began with LaVell Edwards and, following that hiccup with Crowton, has continued through the Bronco Mendenhall era.

The same was true at Utah, for the most part, since the early 1990s, beginning with the program-turning hire of Ron McBride and carrying on through Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham — until the last couple of years, at least.

But at Utah State, winning seasons haven't been taken for granted since the early 1970s, when head coaches Chuck Mills and Phil Krueger combined for five consecutive above-.500 campaigns from 1971-75. Bruce Snyder then came on the scene and put together three more from 1978-80, followed by a .500 season in 1981.

Then the Aggies' once-proud program fell on tough times, and winning seasons seldom came along for a span of 30 years — until 2011. That's when the Aggies broke through with a 7-6 mark, and followed it with an illustrious 11-2 record in 2012.

That was good enough to get then-USU head coach Gary Andersen the high-paying gig at high-profile Wisconsin, and his successor, Matt Wells, followed up with a solid 9-5 slate last season.

That's three straight winning seasons in what was once the Land of the Lost, and now the Aggies are poised to make it four straight — which would be the first time that's happened up here since that distant run of five in a row in the mid-1970s.

Indeed, the Aggies are back, standing tall and proud on the college football landscape of, not just Utah, but the entire country.

"Yes, we sense that," Wells said of the USU program's resurgence and growing reputation. "We are stringing together some good seasons up here, and we're not a one-year flash in the pan program.

"It’s not about one player, it’s not about one person, and it’s not about one coach. It’s about our program and our culture, all of us working and playing together, and it continues to keep getting passed down from one group of kids to the next.

"Our kids expect to win, they train to win, and they do not accept losing," Wells said. "They’re not perfect, but that’s the culture we’re building here — we expect to win every time we walk out on the field, and that’s the type of attitude that’s contagious to me, and one that players and coaches want to be a part of it."

The Aggies' program has taken such giant strides forward that, when they open their season on Aug. 31 at Tennessee, they are actually given a solid shot at possibly knocking off the Volunteers of the almighty Southeastern Conference.

That's something that even the most ardent Aggie fan could've never imaged a few years ago. And it's a shimmering reflection of just how far this program has progressed over the past few seasons.

In recent years, though, they've suffered tough, heartbreaking losses against other big-name opponents like Auburn, Wisconsin and USC.

Wells is hoping they're learned from those disappointing experiences.

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