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Why the Utah State Aggies have something to play for in the wake of loss to Boise State

While already bowl eligible with six wins, a victory over New Mexico would all but secure the Aggies a berth in a bowl game

Utah State wide receiver Jordan Nathan (16) carries the ball as Boise State safety Evan Tyler (5) defends during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019, in Logan, Utah.  
Eli Lucero, AP

LOGAN — A question arose Saturday night in the immediate aftermath of Utah State’s 56-21 loss to No. 20-ranked Boise State: What is left for the Aggies to play for?

All year long, the goal for Utah State football was to win the Mountain West Conference. As has been repeated time and again, the team broke the huddle after every practice with the declaration “Mountain West champs.” Winning a conference championship was everything.

“That, a conference championship, is our ultimate goal,” Utah State coach Gary Andersen said, earlier in the year.

That goal provided Utah State with the motivation necessary to bounce back from a trio of out-of-conference losses to Wake Forest, LSU and BYU. The hope of a conference championship was the impetus behind the Aggies’ strong play in recent victories over Fresno State and Wyoming, as well.

With the loss to Boise State, however, that goal is dead. The Broncos officially eliminated the Aggies from conference title contention and Utah State will finish the year third in the Mountain Division, regardless of what happens Saturday, Nov. 30 against New Mexico in the regular season finale.

All of which raises the question: What is left for the Aggies to play for?

A lot it would seem.

At 6-5 overall, 5-2 in conference, Utah State is bowl eligible, a point of emphasis for Andersen since the victory over Wyoming two weeks ago.

“They got bowl eligible. We have six wins,” he said. “Are we satisfied with just that? Absolutely not, but I’m the first guy to stand up and say that’s a great accomplishment. There is a reason that there are bowl games, and when you get to six wins you get an opportunity to go to a bowl game, so it’s something very good that’s happened to this football team.

“I’m very proud of them, and they should be very proud of the fact that they got to that point. Satisfied? Again, absolutely not, but, proud and happy of that accomplishment, you bet. If you lose sight of that and you’re not fired up about that accomplishment, then boy, oh, boy that’s a pretty bad place to live for a football team.”

Bowl eligibility does not guarantee a berth in a bowl game, however.

There are 78 available bowl spots in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) every year and the MWC has ties to five of them, namely the Mitsubishi Motors Las Vegas Bowl, Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, New Mexico Bowl, SoFi Hawaii Bowl and the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl. A sixth bowl, the Cheez-It Bowl, may present itself as well, in the event the Pac-12 Conference is unavailable to fill the spot with an eligible team.

Currently, seven MWC teams (Boise State, Air Force, Utah State, Wyoming, Hawaii, San Diego State and Nevada) are bowl eligible and the pecking order in the conference standings at the end of the regular season will go a long way in deciding which teams are invited to a bowl and which one or ones are not.

Defeat the Lobos and the Aggies will all but assure themselves a berth in a bowl game — likely either the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl or the NOVA Home Loans Arizona Bowl — for the ninth time in the last 10 years. Lose and Utah State may be on the outside looking in come bowl season.

“Where are we? One thing I did tell them and I’ll share with you guys is six wins doesn’t guarantee you a bowl game, I’ll tell you that much,” Andersen said. “Six wins gets you bowl eligible, but it doesn’t get you into a guaranteed bowl. They have an awful lot left to fight for and they have to go get themselves ready to play New Mexico.

“Our challenge is to rally back, to battle back and see what we can do to finish the season the right way. I look forward to being with these kids and they will bounce back.”

Aggies on the air

Utah State (6-5, 5-2) at New Mexico (2-9, 0-7)

Dreamstyle Stadium, Albuquerque, N.M.

Saturday, 2 p.m. MST

TV: Facebook

Radio: KZNS 1280