Photo by Robert K. Scott
LOGAN—The college football season is winding down, but the stakes are as high as ever for Utah State. With three games remaining, the Aggies are on top of the division standings with a one-game lead over both Air Force and Boise State. If USU loses a game and ends in a tie with Air Force, the Aggies will be fine—USU owns the tiebreaker. If that tie is with Boise State, though, the advantage goes to the Broncos.
Mountain Division Standings
Utah State 4-1 7-2
Air Force 3-2 6-3
Boise State 3-2 5-4
Colorado State 2-3 3-6
Wyoming 1-4 5-4
New Mexico 1-4 3-6
The bad news: Boise State is rolling. The good news: So is Utah State, and as long as USU keeps winning, it doesn’t matter. The Aggies will be in the championship game if they take care of business, and it starts Saturday, 8:30 p.m. at San Jose State.
For the better part of the last decade, San Jose State was not much of a threat. The Spartans hadn’t posted a winning conference record since 2013, but anyone paying attention knows that is no longer the case. Last year’s Spartans shocked the conference by not only making it to its first Mountain West championship game, but by winning the whole thing.
San Jose State has slowed down this year, but not by much. The Spartans have played even .500 football this season at 5-5 overall and 3-3 in conference. Some of those wins were against weaker opponents, but a pair of close losses to San Diego State and Nevada showed the Spartans can still play tough with the league’s best. Many of those games were without their top guy, quarterback Nick Starkel, who was out with injury. Now he is back.
Head coach Blake Anderson described the Spartans as dynamic, explosive and powerful, and added that their defense is one of the best in the conference. He made it clear to everyone listening that they are “basically the same team that won a championship last year,” but that they haven’t been at full strength much. Now, he said, they are as close to healthy as ever.
“They are a very sound, solid team,” he said. “There is a reason they won the championship a year ago. It has not been perfect this year, but they have been through a lot to get to this point.”
Utah State’s star receiver Deven Thompkins said he hadn’t thought much about this week’s opponent being defending champions, and is approaching the game with the same mentality he always has: Being 1-0 at the end of the week.
“They’re just another team on our schedule right now,” he said. “Another conference game that we need in order for us to stay on top.”
The challenge starts up front in the trenches. Utah State has injuries on the offensive line, and according to Anderson, that could be a problem considering the Spartans’ size, speed and length on both its offensive and defensive lines.
“It’s going to test us as much or more than anybody we’ve seen so far,” he said. “To me this is very similar to playing Colorado State, Boise and BYU’s fronts. They’re good. They’re really good.”
In the five games he has played, Starkel has thrown for 1,247 yards, an average of 249 per game.
“He’s poised,” Anderson said. “Doesn’t get rattled. Just changes the whole dynamic of the game.”
It isn’t just Starkel that makes them tough. Anderson said that San Jose State is overall tough to defend because of a very balanced offensive attack. There isn’t just one or two receivers getting the majority of catches—the ball is spread out between the group. Nine of the receivers average more than 30 yards per game when they play. Running back Tyler Nevens gets the majority of the carries, and picks up just more than 77 yards per game.
“They’ve got a tight end, the running back runs the ball well, they’re built big up front and several receivers they utilize,” he said. “They are tough to defend because they’re balanced. They utilize everybody and the quarterback can reach every area on the field.”
For Utah State, there is good news on injuries. Anderson said that Calvin Tyler Jr., who came back from injury last week only to leave the game again, will be ready. The head coach added that Alfred Edwards will also be back after suffering a concussion.
The game will kickoff at 8:30 p.m. and will be televised on Fox Sports 1.