It’s a widely accepted tradition in college football for big schools to play small schools early in the season, usually ending in ridiculously lopsided scores. It’s viewed as a mutually beneficial arrangement.

The small schools get a hefty check that does a lot to keep the program afloat, all served up with a big dose of humiliation. The big schools get an easy opponent to give their team a break, there being no sense in risking a potential national ranking or an injury before conference play begins.

Or so the thinking goes.

So last Saturday Utah State, an FBS school, lined up to play Weber State, an FCS school, in Logan. The Aggies had already been on the other end of such arrangements. A week earlier they played powerhouse Alabama on the road and lost 55-0. The big fish eats a small fish that eats a smaller fish and so forth. Or that was the plan, anyway.

There was just one problem: Weber State went off script. The Wildcats didn’t cooperate at all. They didn’t just beat the Aggies; they routed them.

Weber State 35, Utah State 7.

Utah State’s lone score was a 100-yard kickoff return by Terrell Vaughn in the first quarter, which gave the Aggies a 7-3 lead. The Wildcats scored the next 32 points.

Josh Davis, who had more than 100 combined yards rushing and receiving, ran 17 yards for a touchdown, Ty MacPherson caught TD passes of 9 and 18 yards, Desmond Williams returned an interception 33 yards for a touchdown and Kyle Thompson kicked two field goals and that was that.

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The Wildcats passed for 202 yards and ran for 199 yards. The other big stat of the day: Utah State quarterback Logan Bonner, who made a star turn last season but is trying to rebound from an injury, completed just 12 of 31 passes for 120 yards.

The shocking outcome of the game recalled the last time this happened — actually, the ONLY time this had happened in their previous 13 meetings. It was Nov. 11, 1978. The Aggies were 7-2 heading into a game against Weber State, which was 3-6 following losses to North Dakota State, Montana and Montana State.

The Aggies, on the other hand, were formidable. The roster included Eric Hipple, Rick Parros, Ron Cassidy, John Thompson, Dave Parkin, Rulon Jones, Donnie Henderson and Craig Bradshaw, all of whom would be drafted and/or play in the NFL. They were coached by Bruce Snyder, who would go on to be the head coach at Cal and Arizona State and an assistant in the NFL.

They won their first five games of the season, including a 24-7 road win over BYU. Their unbeaten streak ended with a loss to Long Beach State, followed by a narrow 17-16 road loss to Miami.

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Anyway, the Aggies lined up to play the Wildcats and nothing went right. They couldn’t stop Weber State wide receiver Randy Jordan any more than they could stop the snow that fell throughout much of the game and piled up on the field. Jordan, who would be named a Division I-AA All-American that year, caught 10 passes for 185 yards and three touchdowns, and the Wildcats won 44-25. The only good thing about it from Utah State’s perspective was that only 6,000 fans were there to witness it.

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Such upsets are not as uncommon as you might think. The year 1978 marked the first time schools were designated Division I-A and I-AA (in 2006 those designations were changed to FCS — Football Championships Subdivision — and FBS — Football Bowl Subdivision). Since then, FCS/I-AA schools have beat the bigger schools 232 times, an average of about five per year.

While Weber State was dispatching Utah State last Saturday, former FCS schools delivered big upsets — Marshall beat nationally ranked Notre Dame, Georgia Southern beat Nebraska, and Appalachian State beat nationally ranked Texas A&M. On the other hand, Utah had its way with Southern Utah, winning 73-7 while apparently trying to make a statement for pollsters after the Utes blew their No. 7 preseason ranking with an opening-game loss to Florida.

No matter how you cut it, USU, which has been outscored 90-7 the last two games, suddenly is reeling after winning 11 games a year ago and finishing in the top 25. After being eaten by a big fish, they were eaten by a smaller fish, too.

Weber State wide receiver Tajon Evans, right, helps dump water onto coach Jay Hill after the team’s win over Utah State Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Logan, Utah. | Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP
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