The curtain dropped on another Utah State football season, Saturday, but that doesn't mean it was the final act. As they say in the business, it's on with the show. Bowl season beckons. Recruiting lies ahead. Meanwhile, a new strength and conditioning center near the north end zone is rapidly rising, as are as dreams of Aggie fans everywhere.
Did we say "everywhere?" It used to be "anywhere."
Until lately, USU fans were few and far between.
But the mood is undeniably upbeat these days, enough so that play-by-play man Al Lewis, who has been calling USU games since 1977, labeled this the golden era of Aggie sports. Apologies to Rulon Jones, Lionel Aldridge, Eric Hipple and others, but no less authority than Lewis says this is the zenith — and he was there to see all the aforementioned players. He grew up in Logan. Saturday marked the first 10-win season in school history. It also marked the first time since 1960-61, when football hall of famer Merlin Olsen played, that the Aggies earned back-to-back bowl invitations.
Last time USU won an outright conference title was 76 years ago, which definitely predated Lewis. It even predates USU in a way, since it was called the Agricultural College at the time.
Past glories, of course, had little to do with the fans crowding the field after Saturday's 45-9 win over Idaho. Three interceptions decided the issue early. The win gave USU a 10-2 regular season finish, its only losses coming by a combined five points. A play here or there and the Aggies might have been ranting about the soulless, conspiratorial BCS, just as Utah fans did in 2004 and 2008.
As it was, the Aggies got their official invitation to the Potato Bowl for the second straight year, as the WAC championship trophy was presented. Coach Gary Andersen reiterated afterward that he isn't planning to leave on the night train to Lexington or Berkeley. If so, that's a good thing for USU on two counts. First, it gives USU something to continue building upon. Second, he won't have to remove that USU tattoo from his back anytime soon.
"I love where I'm at; I don't have any intentions or aspirations, or reaching out to people to find another job," he said. "That's basically my stance on it right now and I've said that all along ... I'm excited to have the opportunity to be the coach here for a long, long time. And away we go."
Away to Boise for the holidays.
Granted, the Aggies would like to play in a bigger bowl someday, but why look a gift potato in the eyes?
The combination of a WAC title, the bowl invitation and Andersen's expectation of staying in Logan made it a cloudless day on all counts. Those issues had been hovering like the "A" on the tower of Old Main. Would he be off to a bigger job in a few weeks? His name has arisen in connection with positions at Cal and Kentucky; others will come.
Andersen is a hot commodity, yet is just 25-24 in four years. But his 17-8 mark in the last two years is what counts. Aside from that, he has done something that's hard to quantify: made believers, both inside and outside the locker room.
USU's history of losing?
"I think we're all past that," he said.
Andersen should know; he's been there for the reconstruction.
That's the thing about Andersen. He's all business. Want a coaching cliché, he has dozens of 'em. His all-time favorite: tremendous.
"The (Famous Idaho) Potato Bowl is a tremendous opportunity for us," he said.
Chances of the Aggies keeping him around awhile?
Tremendous, too, if Saturday's comments meant anything.
Historically, timing has been crucial in Logan. So Bruce Snyder (Cal), Charlie Weatherbie (Navy), and John L. Smith (Louisville) moved on while Chris Pella, Chuck Shelton, Dave Arslanian, Mick Dennehy and Brent Guy hung on long enough to get axed.
Pragmatically speaking, Andersen should move, too. With the arms race building in college football, it's hard to imagine USU competing forever for his talents. At the same time, recruiting and fundraising are on the rise. Another fine year and Andersen might even match Stew Morrill, the Aggie basketball coach whose contract extensions run until he's approximately 90. Andersen grew up in Utah and has spent his entire coaching career here. Money matters, but so do roots.
This fall he signed his own extension that would take him through the 2018 season, though buyouts are always possible.
Still, he binds to his teams in a way few coaches do.
To borrow his own phrase, he's a tremendous players' coach.14 comments on this story
He has certainly bought himself some time. Guy lasted four years, yet only won nine games.
But coaching carousel talk seemed tangential, following the win over Idaho. It was time to celebrate. Fans pushed onto the field chanting "Gary! Gary!" to which he replied by grabbing the microphone and chanting "Aggies! Aggies!"
By the end of the day, the biggest worry in Logan wasn't whether the Aggies would go bowling, or even whether Andersen would leave. Those seemed to have been answered. Rather, it was how to get that "A" on Old Main changed to an A-plus.