Utah State (8-4, 7-1) will now have to handle Fresno State (10-1, 7-1) when it heads to Bulldog Stadium next Saturday night for the Mountain West championship game. And if the Bulldogs are frustrated or fired up by the loss of their ultimate dream season, they'll want to take it out on the Aggies.
Bring it on, Utah State said Saturday, because there's nowhere else the Aggies would rather be playing their first season in the Mountain West.
"It's one of the best feelings I've ever felt," coach Matt Wells said. "It's what you get into this for, to play for championships."
The visiting team from Logan enters the ring as an underdog, and some football observers have questioned whether Utah State truly belongs in the fight.
Boise State's two losses came to Fresno and San Diego State, the two top-finishing teams in the West Division. The Aggies didn't have to play either this year, instead getting Hawaii, UNLV and San Jose State from the West.
That hasn't affected their confidence headed into the game. With a conference-best five game active winning streak, the Aggies are optimistic about their shot on the road. And with now perhaps five offensive starters lost to season-ending ailments receiver Travis Reynolds is likely out with an knee injury Utah State has stared down more challenges than just its schedule.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think that we would have that much adversity," Wells said. "Just the ability to overcome all those things, it's something that these kids will reflect back on. They'll take a lot of pride in that accomplishment."
The Aggies expect their defense to give them an edge against the Bulldogs, who couldn't stop the Spartans at all last week. Utah State has the No. 7-ranked scoring defense and No. 11-ranked total defense in the nation by far the best marks in the Mountain West and has held opponents to 10 points or less in four of its last five games.
Led by the country's most prolific passer in Derek Carr, a fringe Heisman candidate, the Aggies will have their hands full. But they're happy to at least get a shot, because they have more on their minds than just being the best in the Mountain Division.
"We're on an emotional high right now," cornerback Tay Glover-Wright said after the win. "But we know Sunday and Monday, it's time to go right back to the lab. We're gonna enjoy this and take this victory, but we're trying to take it all."
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Mountain West Championship Game
P Utah State at Fresno State, Saturday, 8 p.m. MST, TV • Ch. 2
Aggies' defense faces test in Bulldogs' offense
• The Aggies are going for a second straight conference championship, first in Mountain West.
• Utah State has won five straight, best active streak in the conference.
• The Bulldogs are 10-1, their first loss coming to San Jose State on Friday.
• Utah State's defense (No. 7 nationally) will take on Fresno State's offense (No. 4 nationally).