SALT LAKE CITY — Utah State’s history in the national rankings is actually more trivia than history. Other than four weeks in the AP poll during the 2012 season, the total number of appearances is three. Those occurred nearly six decades ago.
So to say hopes are rising in Logan, after USU appeared in the “also receiving votes” category Sunday, is an understatement. The success has conjured visions of breaking into the top 25. This week’s opponent, UNLV, is coming off a 50-14 loss to New Mexico. The Rebels have two wins, but those were against UTEP and Prairie View — not exactly football royalty. Vegas quarterback Armani Rogers is expected to miss Saturday’s game with a toe injury.
A week later comes Wyoming, a team whose only wins are against New Mexico State and FCS-designated Wofford. So if the Aggies pay attention, they’ll soon be 6-1 and undefeated in conference.
After their win over BYU last week, the mood in Aggieland is, yes, bullish. Coaches don’t even think they’ve reached their peak. They say they can improve on last Friday’s 25-point win.
That’s like improving nutella.
It’s virtually perfect as is.
“There’s a pretty good consensus we didn’t play our best game on offense or defense,” coach Matt Wells said.
“We need to increase our urgency and our preparation, because we are now back into the Mountain West Conference.”
That doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy last weekend’s win. The Aggies retained ownership of the Old Wagon Wheel, a trophy symbolizing the USU-BYU series. Do such accouterments even matter nowadays?
“I walk past it every day,” Wells solemnly said.
So USU is making waves early in the midseason. It got nine votes in the AP poll, 32nd highest. The Aggies are still a ways from cracking the rankings. Iowa, the No. 26 team in the polling, got 87 votes, Stanford 59, Washington State 46, San Diego State 24, TCU 20 and Appalachian State 11.
Utah, coming off a 40-21 win over Stanford, received four fewer votes than USU.
The win over BYU, combined with the polling results, has stirred speculation the Aggies are the state’s best team. But there’s no way to prove that, since USU and Utah don’t play. That’s a shame. Northern Illinois is a far less interesting non-conference opponent for the Utes. But that’s how it goes.
Does USU deserve to be in the top 25?— Deseret News Sports (@desnewssports) October 9, 2018
Utah State last received AP poll votes in 2015, a day after destroying No. 21 Boise State, 52-26. Nevertheless, the Aggies received only seven votes and were No. 36 in polling, compared to this year’s nine votes and No. 32 position.
So with a 4-1 record they are living in the moment. USU hasn’t started out that well since 2012. A win Saturday would put them at 5-1 for the first time since 1978.
Think Rick Parros and Eric Hipple and no ESPN.
This year’s offense has scored 40-plus points in four consecutive games for the first time in school history.
Cracking the rankings is complicated, with some teams poised to rise, others on the way down. Iowa plays a mediocre Indiana this week, and should move up. Stanford has been without its star running back. Washington State is looking better than expected, but plays a potent Oregon next week. San Diego State is 4-1 and facing Air Force, a team USU already defeated. TCU meets Texas Tech in a game the Horned Frogs should win. Appalachian State is favored against Arkansas State.
Still, it’s hard to miss the vibe coming from Logan. The Aggies weren’t supposed to be just one Michigan State touchdown shy of an undefeated season, but here they are. Several teams ahead in the polls play tougher schedules, and are thus more vulnerable to defeat.
Other than the 2012 season, the Aggies haven’t been ranked since the 1960s by the AP. Those were considered the glory years. During that decade, they beat BYU seven times in 10 tries. Now they’ve won three of the last five.
For any MWC team not named Boise State, attracting attention is difficult. Whether this means the Aggies are headed back to the polls is unclear, but they’re trending.
Making history is fine, but for now USU should just make use of the opportunity. Keep winning and the Aggies will get noticed. History will come along at its own pace.