Utah State is now expected to play for the Mountain West championship
Little was expected of Utah State entering the season, but the Aggies are in first place in their division and are the favorite to make it to the MW championship game
Four games down, four more to go.
Utah State football is officially at the midpoint of Mountain West Conference play, and Saturday afternoon’s game against Hawaii will push the Aggies into the downhill stretch of the 2021 season.
At 5-2 overall and 3-1 in conference, not much more could have been expected from Utah State.
“Last season didn’t go as planned, so to come out and have the year so far that we have had — obviously two tough losses to two good teams — but at the end of the day, being 5-2, I don’t think a lot of people outside of this family expected that this season,” senior wide receiver Derek Wright said. “We’ve just got to keep going out there every week and proving people wrong, and we’ll have a shot.”
A shot at what? Winning both the Mountain Division and possibly a MW championship.
According to the latest ESPN FPI (Football Power Index), the Aggies don’t have just a shot at those goals. Utah State is actually the favorite to win its division, and thus has the best odds to play for a conference title.
Utah State is currently projected to finish the season with at least eight wins and has a 99.8% chance to become bowl eligible (six wins are needed to secure bowl eligibility, unless there is a shortage of bowl eligible teams).
The Aggies, who have conference games remaining against Hawaii (4-4, 1-2), San Jose State (4-4, 2-2), Wyoming (4-3, 0-3) and New Mexico (3-5, 1-3), won the Mountain Division in 62.2% of ESPN simulations, the best percentage of any team in the MW (undefeated San Diego State stands at 46.4% in the West Division race).
When it comes to a conference title win, the Aggies (13.7%) have the third best probability, behind the Aztecs (33.1%) and Fresno State Bulldogs (27.0%). Utah State hasn’t played for a conference championship since 2013, its first year in the MW.
The Aggies aren’t expected to win out this season, despite what has to be considered one of the easier schedules in the conference. Much of that has to do with the Aggies’ opponents, though, rather than themselves.
Hawaii is in win or go home mode already, needing two more wins to become bowl eligible with games remaining against Utah State, San Diego State, UNLV, Colorado State and Wyoming.
The Aggies and Warriors boast two of the more dynamic offenses in the conference, with Utah State second in total offense, while Hawaii is fourth. The teams are third and fifth in rushing and passing offense in the MW (Utah State is better through the air and Hawaii is better on the ground).
That isn’t is a surprise to Utah State head coach Blake Anderson, who has coached against Hawaii’s Todd Graham throughout his career, usually in games best described as shootouts.
“I was at Southern Miss when he was at Tulsa and we had some track meets,” Anderson said. “Some really fun and competitive games. It is going to be interesting to see how this one turns out.”