LAS VEGAS — Utah State's football team has been on the rise, and its new conference foes have noticed.
Coming off a record-breaking season in 2012, the Aggies won't be sneaking up on any of their brand-new Mountain West opponents this fall. USU's efforts the past two seasons have served notice to teams throughout the league, including Boise State, the preseason favorite in the the Mountain Division, and San Diego State, expected to be near the top in the West.
"They're legit. No question about it," said San Diego State defensive back Nat Berhe. "I saw their game against BYU last year and that's as tough a defense as you'll see. I'm excited they're in our conference and they definitely belong."
Boise State's Joe Southwick says Utah State makes the MWC stronger.
"The addition of Utah State helps legitimize our conference," he said. "Utah State is a great program and will be as tough as any team we play this year. San Jose State is a great addition as well. I don't think anyone is looking at these additions as not worthy of being part of our conference. I'm excited we've been able to add them and I could see Utah State becoming one of our big rivals."
Given how close Boise State and Utah State are geographically, players and coaches see the potential for a natural rivalry. It's a notion Utah State coach Matt Wells recognizes, but downplays.
"Let's just wait to see if we can actually win some games against Boise until we go ahead and call it a rivalry," he said. "We're close geographically, but that's about it right now. Boise State has been doing it in whatever conference they've been in for a long time and we have a ways to go still until I'd dare call us a rival to them. But yeah, hopefully we get there."
Much of the respect thrown Utah State's way on media day was mutual. USU players recognize that the quality of conference opponents has been raised significantly from the Western Athletic Conference, but they are determined to meet their new challenge.
"There's no team you can overlook in this conference, that's for sure," said quarterback Chuckie Keeton. "Every week is going to present unique challenges and tough teams and we'll need to be ready every week. We respect every team in this conference, but we're confident that we can compete."
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @BrandonCGurney
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company