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PROVO -- The Mountain West Conference has seen some interesting games with the start of the 2010 season, causing some unlikely teams to catch national attention, while other, traditionally stronger teams have begun to fall by the wayside.
The San Diego State Aztecs (3-1) have yet to meet with the Utes, but will match up with BYU (1-4) Saturday with a 1-0 record against Beehive State opponents so far, having rolled Utah State 41-7 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego Sept. 25. The Aztecs have snatched up wins against the Aggies, New Mexico State (41-21) and Nicholls State (47-0) by a margin of 20 points or more, and lost their only game so far this season in a hard-fought 27-24 battle with Missouri in week three.
"We've had a good start to this point. Obviously, we'd rather be 4-0. We didn't finish (the Missouri) game in the manner that we'd like to, but we've got a big test, I promise you, this weekend going up to Provo," San Diego coach Brady Hoke said in an interview with KSL radio.
The Cougars, on the other hand, have endured a more frustrating start, including a 31-16 loss to Utah State the week after the Aggies took their Aztec beating. It was the first time BYU dropped a game to Utah State since 1993 and marked the Cougars fourth straight loss just five games into the season - their worst start in nearly 40 years.
Despite the less than superior start BYU has had, Hoke said he's still expecting the Cougars to be one of the Aztecs' toughest challenges of the season.
"They're a prideful football team with a lot of success. I think there's only five teams in the country that have won 10 games in the last four years, and they're one of them," Hoke said in Tuesday's press conference. "They've got a lot of pride, they're well-coached. Their head coach is a guy who's a friend, a guy who is a tough-minded guy, and they'll be a heck of challenge for us this Saturday."
In defense of the negative media attention BYU has recently attracted with their sloppy record and the firing of defensive coordinator Jaime Hill after last week's loss, Hoke said the Cougars' schedule has been anything but ideal for a young, developing team.
"You look at the schedule they've played; three Top 25 schools, Washington who beat USC last weekend and then a great rivalry game (against) Utah State," Hoke said to KSL radio. "We've got…our work cut out for us, ‘cause Jake Heaps and that offense; they're a tremendous team. We've got a lot of work to do to get us to the point where we want to go in there and compete."
In addition to giving BYU some heavy praise, Hoke pointed out weaker areas of the Aztecs' game that need improvement before attempting to give the Cougars another stinging defeat.
"We aren't doing some things right. Number one, our kickoff return is abysmal. We're not doing great there," Hoke said. "We have way too many penalties for where we'd like to be, and those penalties that are before the ball's snapped are the ones that just drive you nuts as a fan and as a coach."
The Aztecs are currently averaging 71.5 yards per game lost to penalties (the most by any MWC team), while BYU is averaging 40.0 - just 0.4 yards out of the fewest in the conference.