BYU takes BCS hopes to Utah State

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By DOUG ALDEN AP Sports Writer

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall is in unfamiliar territory.

The eighth-ranked Cougars are back in the Top 10 for the first time in seven years and Mendenhall is a little puzzled about how his team got there, considering BYU hasn't played in nearly two weeks.

"It is interesting to me that we can move up without playing a game," Mendenhall said. "And I think somewhere that's fundamentally not right."

Right or wrong, BYU (4-0) will try to live up to the new ranking Friday night with a visit to Utah State (1-3). The Cougars have moved up six spots in the AP poll since shutting out Wyoming 44-0 on Sept. 20. BYU moved to 11th the next day, then another three spots last week thanks to a string of upsets that shook up the polls as the Cougars had the weekend off.

It's that kind of upset that the Cougars fear most as they wrap up their non-conference schedule.

"Teams in the top 10 lost, and that gave us an opportunity to move up. Now we have to take advantage it," BYU quarterback Max Hall said. "We've got to make sure we finish out -- not let that happen to us."

So far, the only team to even threaten BYU was Washington. The Cougars needed to block an extra point attempt with two seconds left to avoid overtime and win 28-27. The rest of the games have been bona fide blowouts.

The Cougars have outscored their last two opponents 103-0 and are heavily favored to extend the nation's longest winning streak to 15 straight on Friday.

Utah State was once a rival for BYU, but not recently. The Cougars have won the last eight meetings, shutting out the Aggies 38-0 two years ago in Provo.

The Aggies are 1-46 all-time against teams in the AP poll and the record has only gotten worse this year in losses to Oregon (66-24) and Utah (58-10). BYU is the third ranked team Utah State has faced and two more -- No. 22 Fresno State and No. 17 Boise State -- are still to come.

The last six ranked teams to play Utah State have averaged 55 points, which is ominous for the Aggies considering how often BYU has scored.

Hall has thrown 15 touchdown passes just four games into the season and hasn't played in a fourth quarter since the Washington game on Sept. 6.

Hall said the Cougars know they will be favorites for the rest of the season, but top-ranked Southern California was also picked to win big against Oregon State last week. The Beavers' 27-21 win started the weekend of upsets that pushed the Cougars back into the Top 10 for the first time since 2001.

"I think that's just kind of the way college football is nowadays," Hall said. "No matter if you're playing a big-time team or if you're playing someone whose record doesn't show that they're as good, you've got to be ready to play."

The Aggies also had last week off, giving them a chance to savor a 42-17 win over Idaho on Sept. 20. It was Utah State's first win of the season and the first start for sophomore quarterback Diondre Borel, who passed for 191 yards and two touchdowns against the Vandals.

"A lot of people don't think we can win," said Borel, who also ran for 93 yards and another TD in his starting debut. "If we make an upset everyone will feel better. A lot more fans would come to our next game. Everything would be better around here."

But there are plenty of reasons that the Cougars are favored by more than four touchdowns. The Cougars have averaged 482 yards and 43 points per game. The Aggies' opponents are averaging 443 yards and 42 points.

Utah State coach Brent Guy was an assistant at Arizona State when Hall redshirted for the Sun Devils in 2004. Guy remembers Hall as competitive and smart, but says BYU has much more than just a star quarterback.

"They just have a lot of weapons on offense so it will be a challenge for us to slow them down," Guy said. "We have to get in the game early. We can't try to play catch up. We have to match and play with them during the football game to have a chance to compete."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-10-02-08 1652MDT

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