This weekend's showdown in Logan will pit the 1-3 BYU Cougars against the 1-3 Utah State Aggies. Blue and white v blue and white. So who is the better team? What colors are the fans going to wear? (hopefully the BYU fans will wear more blue than usual) Who is going to come out on top this weekend? Who is going to stay alive in the battle for the "Beehive Boot?" Which team will walk away with the traditional "Old Wagon Wheel" trophy?
When Coach Mendenhall took over as head coach at BYU in 2005 he made one thing clear to us players, each year we were not only going to compete to be conference champions, but STATE CHAMPIONS as well. He was committed to re-instating the rivalry with Utah State and bring the Old Wagon Wheel trophy back home. I can remember when we finally got to play them in 2006 and seeing that trophy get rolled into the locker the following week. For the remainder of my time at BYU it stayed fixed to the wall next to the rear locker room entrance that leads to the weight room and practice field. It was a fun thing to be a part of. To see how far back the trophy went and see the inscriptions from all the old games. Then to know that your team was memorialized on the trophy. It was something special.
But that was a different time and a lot has changed in the last 12 months in both programs. This year the battle between these two teams is dead even heading into Friday's match. Unfortunately for both teams those similarities are not pretty. The only top 50 ranking in any statistical category for the teams is Utah States #49 ranking in team rushing yards per game. Other than that average stat, thus far the teams are sitting right on the border of mediocrity, but I wouldn't read into too much.
BYU's opponents (Washington Huskies, Air Force Falcons, Florida St. Seminoles, and Nevada Wolf Pack) are a combined 11-4 with Nevada cracking the top 25 and AFA and FSU knocking on the door (#27, #29 respectively). As for Utah State, their opponents are a combined 10-5 (9-2 for FBS teams) with a close loss to #8 Oklahoma. Clearly they have each had a tough schedule thus far. In fact it is about the exact opposite of the 3rd in-state rival, Utah Utes, whose opponents have combined for a record of 3-12.
The Aggies started the year shorthanded do to injuries, but they have made the most of things. This is a game that makes me uneasy. For starters it is being played in Logan. For some reason, BYU struggles in Logan. Even though BYU has won the last 4 meetings in Logan, they have been close games, when BYU really should have ran away in a landslide. Next, BYU has suffered a serious drop in offensive production, and Utah State has some seriously threatening weapons to attack an inconsistent and under-experienced BYU defense.
There is not doubt that both universities made the right choice in their respective head coaches. Both Bronco Mendenhall and Gary Anderson have instilled a new tradition and team image with their programs, and while BYU may have experienced more success up front, Utah State is no longer the weak team from up north. They are only a year or two from really breaking out, and this is a turning point game in a big year for their program.
The boys up north are looking at this game, much like we looked at the New Mexico game in 2005. We were a 1-2 team coming off a big loss to SDSU and needed to go into a hostile environment against a very good Rocky Long team, not the floor mopping New Mexico Lobos we know today. Many BYU fans look at that New Mexico game as the day the BYU football power shifted. That is what the Aggies are hoping to accomplish on Friday. They are looking for a way out of the WAC cellar. The encouraging thing for BYU fans, is that while this year's defense may be giving up more points than the recent past defenses, they have done a great job of containing running QBs. They will be tested yet again with the legs of Diondre Borel. Limit him, and we limit their offense.
The Cougars have something to fight for also. In order to keep their post season goals intact that Cougars need to rack up some W's against teams not named TCU and Utah, in order to get to the magical number 6.
Look for both teams to throw everything and the kitchen sink at the opponent.
The Final Verdict? BYU 23 v Utah State 18