On Saturday, Utah State put a cap on their most successful season in school history, and perhaps a season that could kick-start a mid-major power.
Winning their first outright conference championship since 1936, the Aggies capped their record-setting 11-2 season with their first bowl victory since 1993 with a 41-15 win in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl over the Toledo University Rockets.
Since joining the Western Athletic Conference in 2005, the Aggies had gone 17-54 up until the 2011 season when the Aggies fought to a 7-6 record that ended in a heartbreaking 24-23 loss to Ohio University in last year’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
The Aggies success began in the 2011 campaign as a true freshman quarterback, Chuckie Keeton, led the Aggies to a near upset over then defending national champions, the Auburn Tigers.
The game would spark the year as the Aggies finished with their first winning season since 1996.
Utah State did not skip a beat heading into the 2012 season as they jumped out to a 2-0 start before dropping their first of two games against eventual Big 10 champion Wisconsin, 16-14.
“I’m just blessed to be on this team that I have and I owe it all to my coaches,” said senior linebacker Bojay Filimoeatu. “My coaches told me to just go, let loose. I’m thankful for that.”
Fourth-year Head Coach Gary Andersen has fueled this talented group and has got them to believe in what they are doing. “They’ve been got there all year long on defense” Andersen said. “They made a whole bunch of plays when they had to and the coaches did a nice job coaching the scheme all year long and the young men came out and executed it.”
Now, the Aggies are looking ahead for what is to come.
With the Western Athletic Conference dissolving after this academic calendar, Utah State is making their way to the Mountain West in 2013.
The Aggies are in a good situation going forward as they have the potential, with Boise State and San Diego State currently scheduled to leave the Mountain West for the Big East in 2013, to make a statement in the MWC and take control as a premiere program in the conference, something the conference will desperately seek.
With a coach like Andersen at the reigns, the Aggies have the potential and the talent to become the next Boise State, TCU or BYU in the college football world.
While not having the success for the amount of years Boise State has had over the past decade, Utah State has shown flashes of brilliance in the past three seasons and has shown they have the potential to reach the same echelon as Boise State, TCU or BYU in becoming a mid-major power.
“This is the best season ever in the history of Utah State Football and these guys got that,” said Andersen. “It’s going to be there for a long time until someone takes it away from them.”
The Mountain West is a big jump in talent level from the WAC as it has produced BCS wins and teams that consistently finish in the Top 25.
Something that further benefits the Aggies will be the post-BCS era in the Group of 5, where the Mountain West, Big East, MAC, C-USA and Sun Belt will each have an equal shot of making it into one of the major bowl games.
With the way this team is coached, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Aggies make a push for the top seeded Group of 5 position.
The Aggies improved with recruiting efforts over the past several years behind the conviction of Andersen, which might be just what they need to take their program to the next level and establish consistency.
It may come as cliche, but there are hints of Boise State Head Coach Chris Petersen and Andersen in terms of having players buy into their respective football program and vision.
“They (Utah State players) believed in us (coaches), “ said Andersen, “they believed in the program and I believe that’s how you stay consistent.”
In years past they may have been a WAC bottomfeeder, but the times are changing for the Aggies.