Conference: MWC vs. Pac-12
2013 Season: Utah State 0-0; Utah 0-0
Coaches: Utah State Head Coach Matt Wells (0-0); Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham (91-66)
TV Coverage: Fox Sports 1
Commentators: Justin Kutcher (play-by-play) Joel Klatt/Petros Papadakis (analyst), Kristina Pink (sideline)
Web Streaming: Gametracker
Local Radio: 610 KNVU (USU); ESPN 700 (Utah)
Last Meeting: Utah State won 27-20 in overtime (Logan, UT)
Series Record: Utah leads overall series 78-24 (started 1892)
Vegas Odds: Utah +2.5
Over/Under: 51 Points
Utah State looks to shake off once and for all the "little brother" title and prove that last year was not a fluke, winning their first game against Utah in 15 years. Coming off a record setting year with 11 wins and a WAC title while losing some key coaches and players, the Aggies hope to charge into Salt Lake and kick start another successful season under new head coach Matt Wells.
On the other hand, after driving the disappointing hour and half home from Logan last year, the Utes look to bounce back not only from losing to their in-state rivals but from an overall rough year at 5-7. Key players are healthy and the offense has been revamped by bringing in new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson.
Who to Watch
Chuckie Keeton: "Watch this Chuckie Keeton kid, watch Chuckie Keeton, I repeat watch Chuckie Keeton" Fox Sports 1 analyst Greg Couch stated Wednesday night on the new Fox Sports Live show. I think it might be wise to listen. Keeton is on a number of watch lists including the Heisman Watch list and coming off of a season throwing 27 touchdowns at a 67.6 completion percentage, you can look for the Aggies to attack the fairly young Utah secondary through the air. But can he still put off these types of numbers with his top 5 receivers from last year all gone?
Travis Wilson: Starting the year as the third string, Wilson rocketed to the top of the depth chart after injuries plagued the entire Ute team. Wilson struggled against a fairly brutal schedule throwing as many touchdowns as interceptions but looks to improve on recent struggles. A new, experienced offensive coordinator should help his cause as should an offseason as the clear cut starter should bring confidence and poise to what has been a turbulent position at Utah in recent years. But the biggest question is can the ever-changing Utah offensive line protect him long enough to show his 4-start recruit ability?
Joe Hill: After watching three running backs head off to the NFL (Turbin, Smith, Williams), Hill is finally getting the reins as the lead horse of a very run-friendly offense. Hill showed flashes of what he could be last year with 7 touchdowns and 269 yards on only 43 carries to go along with a crucial touchdown grab against Utah last year and is expected to have a big year running behind an offensive line that returns every starter from last year. He was hurt for a few games last year, can he stay healthy with a heavier work load?
Head Coaches: Both Coach Wells and Coach Wittingham will have the spotlight bright on them for different reasons. Utah State Coach Wells has the burden of replacing recently departed Coach Anderson (Wisconsin) who turned the Aggies from a cellar-dweller to a conference front runner. Can he continue the new winning ways?
On the other hand, Coach Wittingham's seat is warming up a little bit. Since moving to the Pac-12, Utah has barely challenged anyone outside of Colorado and if they lose the Aggies, it is hard to find 6 wins on their schedule to make them bowl eligible. Utah has a loyal fan base but it would be hard for them to look past the recent talent and lack of success if things do not change quickly this year.
There are so many unknowns heading into Thursday night but one thing is for sure, this will be a fiery game as many players on both teams grew up playing each other for many years, and the love is not lost. Utah State is tired of being known as the "third-tier" team in the state and a win would solidify to everyone that they are back to relevance and should not be taken lightly. But can they overcome recent struggles on the road and close out a big game?
Coach Wittingham stated that he "has had nightmares about last year's loss" and hopes to reaffirm why they were invited to the Pac-12. High powered, airing-it-out offenses are to be expected from both sides with a play or two from a defense or special teams to determine the outcome of the game.