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SALT LAKE CITY - Despite finishing seventh last season and having the most defensive starters back in the conference, Utah State was picked ninth in both the 2008 Western Athletic Conference football media and coaches' polls announced Wednesday at the opening of the conference preview, held at Salt Lake City.
USU garnered 13 points in the coaches' poll, finishing two points behind eighth-place Idaho. In the media poll, the Aggies collected 78 points while the Vandals received 87 points.
"We've oscillated between eight and nine in our first four seasons here in the WAC. Last year we finished the highest we ever have in the WAC. I'm not saying we had a successful season, but we finished the season strong," said fourth-year head coach Brent Guy, who is 6-29 at the helm of the Aggies. "I think it's motivation for our players and coaches to make the push that we need to make to get up into the top half of this conference. That's a matter of winning those games that we had the lead in the fourth quarter and didn't win."
Utah State had a fourth-quarter lead in six games last season and only won two, finishing the year with a 2-10 record.
"I think it's also a reflection of having two guys drafted in that we don't have Kevin Robinson anymore that was such a major impact and people are thinking we won't be able to replace him with anyone, and we lost an offensive lineman as a fourth round pick in Shawn Murphy. So people are probably thinking that we've got to be down, but our numbers are better and stronger than we've ever been," Guy said.
Utah State is entering its fourth season in the WAC and its fourth under Guy. The Aggies return 17 starters, including a WAC-leading nine on defense, as well as six offensive starters and two special teams starters. USU returns a total of 39 lettermen.
"Polls are important because it's an opinion to where people think we are, but the facts are what matters in where we are in November at the end of the season, and that's the most important part of it," Guy said.
Fresno State was the coaches' favorite, collecting seven first-place votes and a total of 63 points. Boise State, whose five year reign as conference champion was stopped last season by Hawai'i, was second with two first-place votes and a total of 57 points. Nevada was third with 43 points, just edging out defending conference champion Hawai'i with 41 points. Louisiana Tech and San Jose State each received 33 points to tie for fifth, while New Mexico State was seventh with 26 points, followed by Idaho with 15 points and Utah State's 13 points.
The media poll was identical other than the top two spots, with Boise State getting the top nod with 25 first-place votes and 383 points. Fresno State was close behind with 379 points with 20 first-place votes. Nevada was third (296 points), while Hawai'i was fourth (243), followed by Louisiana Tech in fifth (209), San Jose State in sixth (183), New Mexico State seventh (167), Idaho eighth (87) and USU ninth (78).
The media poll also voted on preseason players of the year with Boise State running back Ian Johnson being selected as the Offensive Player of the Year, while Hawai'i linebacker Solomon Elimimian tabbed as the Defensive Player of the Year.
"Polls reflect a lot off of who is the quarterback, unfortunately, and I think that's why you saw the two polls not agreeing at the top. Fresno State was picked by the coaches because they've got the established quarterback (senior Tom Brandstater) that's played a lot and everyone knows about him. I think with us still trying to determine where we'll be at quarterback, that's probably one of the biggest factors as well."
The Aggies open the 2008 season on Aug. 30 at UNLV. USU's home opener is Sept. 13 against in-state rival Utah.
Aggie football tickets are available in person through the USU Ticket Office at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, online 24 hours a day at www.UtahStateAggies.com and clicking on "tickets" in left column, or by phone by calling 1-888-USTATE-1 or (435) 797-0305.
|**2008 Western Athletic Conference Coaches Preseason Football Poll**|
|**Rk.**||**Team (first place votes)**||**Points**|
|1.||Fresno State (7)||63|
|2.||Boise State (2)||57|
|5.||San Jose State||33|
|7.||New Mexico State||26|
|2008 Western Athletic Conference|
Media Preseason Football Poll
|Rk.||Team (first place votes)||Points|
|1.||Boise State (25)||383|
|2.||Fresno State (20)||379|
|6.||San Jose State||183|
|7.||New Mexico State||167|