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To achieve program goals, Utah State needs to overcome Boise State's dominance

To achieve program goals, Utah State needs to overcome Boise State's dominance

(Wade Denniston, USU Athletics)


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LOGAN β€” Regardless of the score, Utah State's annual showdown with Boise State on Friday was bound to have few postseason implications.

An Aggies' win wouldn't have changed the fact that the Broncos were in the Mountain West championship, and Utah State would await its bowl destination in a matchup against a run-of-the-mill Group of Five program.

That doesn't mean Utah State's loss at Boise State didn't mean anything, though.

The Aggies overcame a 21-point deficit and trailed 28-23 with the ball 11 yards from the end zone with less than 2 minutes remaining in the game. But Utah State's offense was stopped on fourth down and then relinquished two late Boise State touchdowns to lose 42-23.

The context of the loss suggests it was a commendable effort; however, it doesn't change the facts. Utah State lost its seventh-straight game to Boise State and its 19th in 20 tries. It hasn't defeated Boise State in Idaho since 1996 β€” the Broncos' first year playing FBS football.

Boise State remains the big, bad, blue dragon the Aggies can't slay, and it looms over the program. It's what has stopped Utah State from its lofty goals of competing for conference championships and G5 relevancy on an annual basis.

Is there reason to believe things can change? Perhaps.

For one, the Aggies have matched up well physically in its last two matchups against Boise State and outgained the Broncos in both games. Head coach Blake Anderson understands the significance of the game.

"I'm not mistaken, Utah State has one win since 1996, so for the last 30 years. Pretty, pretty obvious, it's tough to play here," Anderson said on Friday. "... If we're going to win championships here, that's a team you've got to beat in that situation.

"I'm just pissed off."

A riled-up Anderson in the postgame media session was refreshing to hear for Aggies fans, especially after apathetic vibes from Anderson's predecessor, Gary Andersen, when the Aggies lost to Boise State by a combined 98-34 in 2019 and 2020.

Anderson's team on Friday looked more engaged than the 2018 Utah State squad that trekked to Treasure Valley on Thanksgiving weekend; that Jordan Love-led group squandered an opportunity to win the Mountain Division and host the conference championship game with a 33-24 defeat that hardly felt close.

So was putting the Broncos on notice Friday afternoon a step forward? Not quite.

As successful as the Blake Anderson tenure has been thus far β€” the Aggies are 17-9 with him at the helm, with a Mountain West championship and bowl game win over Oregon State last season β€” there's been a glaring blemish that Utah State is 0-6 against its rivals.

In 2021, the Aggies lost to Boise State 27-3, BYU 34-20 and Wyoming 44-17. In 2022, they lost to BYU 38-26, Wyoming 28-14, and Boise State.

There is no game the fan base cares about more than the BYU game, and losing it always leaves a sour taste. The Aggies have won multiple games in recent history against the Cougars, though, and the cancellation of the annual series in wake of BYU's departure to the Big 12 puts the Cougars out of the picture.

The Wyoming series is a game of divisional importance, there's a trophy involved β€” the Bridger Rifle β€” and the past two losses have exposed the Aggies' shortage of size and physicality. But the Pokes don't have a chokehold on Utah State as the Broncos do, and it's not a matchup that moves the needle with the fan base as much as Boise State.

That leaves Boise State as Utah State football's most important game going forward, at least until they likely bolt for a bigger conference. As long as Boise State stays in the Mountain West, though, it has all the tangibles necessary for being an epic rivalry.

The two schools have arguably been the most successful programs in the Mountain Division in the past decade; the Aggies are 48-30 against conference foes with two division championships and a conference championship, while Boise State has been a dominant 77-15 with four conference championships.

Besides a two-year break from 2011-12, the two schools have shared a conference since 1996 β€” from the Big West to the WAC to the Mountain West. A four-hour drive between the campuses, both schools are each other's nearest geographic opponent within the conference. There are bragging rights involved as a large population of Idaho kids attend school in Logan, and Idaho and Utah share the Cache Valley.

Yet for 31,402 fans at Albertsons Stadium on Friday β€” 5,000 people short of the stadium's capacity β€” it was just another game against another conference opponent. Nobody held derogatory signs mocking Utah State, few boos were directed toward the Aggies sideline, and no field was stormed when victory was had.

If Utah State wants to be seen as a respected foe in the lense of Boise State, it needs to start winning the game.

For Anderson, there will be plenty to steal his attention during the offseason. Utah State will hire a new university president and athletic director by next season, and there's a lawsuit filed against Anderson by a former player to navigate.

Amid the uncertainty, he'll keep building the team by honing in on recruiting and development, and a continuation to rally alumni to buy into the football program with their pocketbooks to help fund new facilities. It's what's required to catch up to Boise State and, correspondingly, become a top dog in the conference on a permanent basis.

Conversely, winning the games the fan base cares about and being relevant annually is how to keep growing support for the program (the Aggies averaged 16,954 fans per home game this season), which is necessary to improve roster talent and facilities.

On Friday afternoon, Utah State was 11 yards away from a huge step in the right direction. Instead, it was another loss to the dragon up I-84 that stalls the desired progress.

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