Utah State (10-2, 6-0 WAC) will make a second consecutive bowl appearance for only the third time in program history Saturday when the Aggies face the Toledo Rockets (9-3, 6-2 MAC) in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho.
This will be the first meeting between the two schools, both of which had similar seasons. Besides the similar records against lower Division I opponents, both lost by less than one score to teams playing in BCS bowls.
Utah State lost a heartbreaker back in September to Wisconsin on a missed field goal as time expired. The Rockets lost to division rival and BCS-buster Northern Illinois by a touchdown after leading at halftime.
This season was one of several firsts for Utah State. The Aggies arrive in Boise with their highest rankings since 1960 and 1961. They sit at No. 18 in the Associated Press poll and No. 20 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.
The Aggies also finished 22nd overall in the final BCS bowl rankings, their first rankings since the BCS formula was created.
While the rankings are nice, it is also the school’s first outright football championship since 1936.
Adding in this season’s wins, head coach Gary Anderson sits at a 25-24 all-time record at Utah State, which ranks him sixth in the program’s history for total wins. While there was speculation the Coach of the Year candidate could leave the program for a higher profile job, Anderson has stayed with the program and will coach the team in the Saturday’s game.
Every indication is Anderson will stay through next year as well, seeing the team through its first year in the Mountain West conference.
What has made Anderson so successful in Logan has been a stellar defense that has been ranked as one of the best in the NCAA. The Aggies rank in the top 15 in five defensive categories, including scoring defense (eighth) and total defense (15th).
The defense is led by senior cornerback Will Davis, who has had five interceptions.
Part of the winning formula for the Aggies has been quick starts on defense. Utah State allowed a total of six points all season in the first quarter, both on field goals, and is the only team in the nation that hasn’t allowed a touchdown in the opening frame.
Offensively they strike quickly as well, scoring touchdowns on the first play from scrimmage twice this season. Senior running back Kerwynn Williams dominated opponents, rushing for 1,341 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season.
While Williams will not return next season, sophomore quarterback Chuckie Keeton will return as the signal caller next year. Keeton threw for 3,144 yards this season and 27 touchdowns compared to only nine interceptions.
Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. and will be on ESPN. Utah State is favored by 10 points, according to Las Vegas.
Finals slows down basketball schedule
It is the time of year again when students cram in a semester’s worth of information for finals week. With finals in swing, all schools in Utah lightened the schedules for their basketball programs, waiting until Saturday to once again pick up the season.
For the men, BYU and Weber State will face each other Saturday. Utah State and Utah Valley University will also return to play on Saturday.
Utah will pick up again on Tuesday when they face Southern Methodist.
The women will also start up on Saturday with Utah facing Houston-Baptist. BYU will play Tulsa, while the Aggie women will wait until Tuesday to face UC Irvine.
The actual games took a back seat last week when Utah State men’s forward Danny Berger fell to the court during practice last Tuesday. USU assistant athletic trainer Mike Williams performed CPR to save Berger’s life. Berger was released from the hospital Saturday and hopes to play again this season.
Last week’s matchup between USU and BYU was postponed due to Berger’s condition. The game is rescheduled for Feb. 19.