As it prepares to host top-ranked, 5-1 Utah in a dual meet tonight in the Smith Spectrum at 7 p.m., the 7-4 Utah State gymnastics team has a few things going for it that it has never before.

First is that national rating of seventh, which could go to sixth if the Aggies get within a point or so of their school record (192.6) Wednesday. Utah State was rated third in the preseason in 1979-80 but has never been this high during the regular season.Second, says Coach Ray Corn, the Aggies have a consistency they've never before exhibited. It stems, he says, from a group of veterans who've never been to the NCAA finals who are "very hungry" to achieve that this season. "Our potential is better because of our consistency," he says.

Most of all, the Ags have won over the judges. "We've gained a great deal of respect from the judges that we are for real," says Corn.

The Aggies get a 9.8 or two per meet, but their strength is that everyone scores about 9.6. That creates competition because any of the 13 gymnasts can step in for another.

"We have surpassed every one of our goals and expectations," Corn reports. Already the Aggies have a school-record Regional Qualifying Score of 189.61. That's the average of the five best totals, with two from road meets. From here on out, they'll try to replace those scores with higher ones.

"It's been a long time coming," says Corn, in his 14th USU season. "I just hope we don't over- or underestimate anything, and we keep our workmanlike ethic."

USU all-arounders will be Barb Zahl (season best of 38.5), Brenda Scholl (38.35) and Michele Bugbee (38.2). Three-eventers will be Julie Ryan, Natalie Cannon and Heidi Pfannenstiel.

The U., coming off its first loss, 193.95-193.7 at Oregon State Friday, is showing effects of a rough bit of scheduling. This is its third meet in 10 days, and it has two injuries that could keep people out (Missy Wells, back spasms, and Jenny Donaldson, foot bruise) as well as nagging problems like shin splints for Missy Marlowe, the nation's No. 1-ranked all-arounder.

Coach Greg Marsden said he wouldn't know about his lineup until meet time.

The Utes are hardly in trouble, despite their loss at Oregon State. The 193.7 is a point higher than any other team has had in an away meet this season. It was higher than anyone else had scored anywhere until this weekend when Alabama hit 194.15 at home. Utah holds the NCAA record of 195.6 set against Utah State Feb. 2 in the Huntsman Center. Its RQS is 194.15.

The loss may do some good, Marsden says. "I think it kind of brings us down to earth to know that we have to be perfect in that kind of situation or we give the judges an opportunity to let the other team win. That's exactly the situation we'll be in at Alabama." The NCAA finals are there April 19-20.