It's hard not to feel sorry for the Utah State Aggies. They have little operating money and few fans. (I say welcome to the club.)

Then there's their image problem. It's tough to recruit when Sports Illustrated rates you the worst college football team in America. The Aggies are 0-2, having lost to UNLV (No. 101 in SI's poll) and nationally ranked Oregon. Next up is nationally ranked Utah.

USU's last winning season was 1996. Its last win over Utah was three coaches ago.

Is there no end to the suffering?

Actually, yes.

Downtrodden as the program is, it's still putting players in the NFL.

As Helen Keller said, "The world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it."

That may not happen anytime soon, but former Aggies have done respectably in the NFL ranks, even as their college team languishes. Take, for instance, Chris Cooley, who is the starting tight end for the Washington Redskins. He has 27 career touchdowns and is a one-time All-Pro selection.

Cooley made a stir with his popular Web site that includes commentary on such matters as his taboo first date with his wife (she was a team cheerleader) and a commercial where he punches his hand through a wall.

He's not a bad writer, mainly because he does something few athletes do: provides real insight. After registering just one catch on opening weekend against the Giants, he blogged, "If anyone wonders if players in the NFL care about how others at their position are doing, they do. This Sunday sucked for me, watching so many tight ends put up big games. I hate not being productive and I hate being so far down this list."

Then he posted the stats for tight ends around the league, with him at the bottom.

There goes the I-don't-pay-attention-to-what-others-are-doing excuse.

Cooley may command attention, but 305-pound Tampa Bay tackle Donald Penn, also a former Aggie, is doing well in his own right. He is beginning his second year as a starter.

Not bad, coming from a school that has won just six games in the last three years.

Kevin Curtis is one of USU's best success stories. A starting wideout for the Philadelphia Eagles — though currently out with a sports hernia — he was considered one of the top acquisitions of the 2007 free agent period. The Eagles' Web site labeled him "a terrific addition."

Curtis has 213 career catches and 18 touchdowns.

Green Bay cornerback Jarrett Bush, another ex-Aggie, had 24 tackles last year and started one game. He played in this year's season-opener against Minnesota, recording two stops on special teams (he also played defensive back).

Shawn Murphy, a 300-pound offensive lineman for Miami, is a possible starter since the injury to Donald Thomas. The son of LDS author Nancy and ex-Major Leaguer Dale, Shawn Murphy played two years at USU after previous stops at Ricks College (BYU-Idaho) and Dixie State.

Wide receiver Kevin Robinson — who (sorry, Aggies) is listed by NFL.com as a former University of Utah player — was drafted in the sixth round by Kansas City. He signed a three-year contract this summer but will be out for several weeks with a knee injury.

Perhaps the Aggies' biggest success story of recent years isn't even in the NFL. That would be quarterback Anthony Calvillo, the second-leading passer in Canadian Football League history.

The two-time all-star is one of just four players to pass for 6,000 yards in a season.

Calvillo led the Montreal Alouettes to a Grey Cup title — Canada's Super Bowl, eh? — in 2002.

So if you're suffering along with the Big Blue through this long, dark winter of discontent — which has actually lasted a quarter-century — remember this: Somebody must think they can play.

They're doing nicely in the pros.

Meanwhile, USU fans can only follow the current Aggies and hope for the best.

Or just wait a few years and catch them in the pros.


E-mail: rock@desnews.com