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Finally, Ags get to play in league of their own

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LOGAN — With teams like Utah, Nebraska, Arizona State, Wyoming and New Mexico on Utah State's football schedule, it seems rather ironic that Saturday's game against Louisiana-Monroe (0-4) is the one fans were most anxious to see.

Yes, it's the Aggies' first home game, but at the same time, it's their Sun Belt Conference opener.

Now Aggie fans have a little more to cheer about and can expect a little more from their team with the hopes of a conference title and a trip to December's New Orleans Bowl depending on their play this year.

"For the first time since I've been here, since basketball season got over and through the spring and summer, the people in the Cache Valley and at booster functions couldn't wait for the season to get started," Utah State coach Mick Dennehy said.

"This is the one (game) they were referring to."

The Aggies got a taste of what conference action would be like last year. They played La.-Monroe, New Mexico State, Troy State and Middle Tennessee State last year and finished 2-2.

"If you're going to realize your goals, and obviously we all have the same goal and that is to get to New Orleans," Dennehy said, "this is the starter. There is no slipping once you get into the league."

Utah State fell to La.-Monroe 51-48 in double-overtime last year, in a game many felt the Aggies should have won. Ironically, the conference opener is against La.-Monroe. Also, the Indians are coached by former Utah State coach Charlie Weatherbie (1992-1994).

The last season the Aggies played in the Big West Conference, they finished second with a 4-1 record. Their last bowl appearance was in the 1997 Humanitarian Bowl in Boise. They lost to Cincinnati 35-19. Their one and only bowl win was in the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl with a 42-33 decision over Ball State, a game coached by Weatherbie and the only bowl win in Aggie history.

"I don't think the kids feel any pressure as a result of knowing that this is a game that we have to go out and play well if we expect to win," Dennehy said.

The game kicks off at 6 tonight at Romney Stadium.

E-mail: jhinton@desnews.com