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Mountain West football's best team ever: 2004 Utah vs. 2014 Utah State

The original BCS busters came up just short of the top spot in the initial fan vote, so their first obstacle is a Battle of the Brothers across time and space.

Kent Myers had a tall order maintaining Utah State's winning ways. Toppling the 2004 Utes is a taller one.
Kent Myers had a tall order maintaining Utah State's winning ways. Toppling the 2004 Utes is a taller one.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Fans really care about their football in Utah.

For decades, the Utah State Aggies were stuck playing the role of little brother in the Beehive State. However, the past five years in Logan have seen a renaissance on the gridiron. Utah State ascended in the WAC at the beginning of the decade, but the move to the Mountain West hasn't made them any less competitive and, last year, they rode one of the best defenses in the nation to a ten-win season and nearly won a very competitive Mountain division.

On the other hand, it is teams like the 2004 Utes that consigned the Aggies to irrelevancy for so long. Before he won national titles at Florida and Ohio State, head coach Urban Meyer led his team to a 48-6 beatdown over USU en route to destiny. The Utes swept through the Mountain West -- every win but one was by more than two scores -- and made history with a Fiesta Bowl victory against the Pittsburgh Panthers. They succeeded in breaking through the BCS ceiling where other teams -- Tulane, Marshall, Fresno State -- had failed, and set a precedent that few mid-majors were able to match.

The paper matchup between Utah and USU looks like a classic offense vs. defense tilt, but the Utes face lofty expectations and, as with all rivalries, all bets are off.

Tale of the tape

Overall record: 2004 Utah - 12-0 (7-0 MWC); 2014 Utah State - 10-4 (6-2)

Best wins: 2004 Utah - vs. Pitt (Fiesta Bowl), 35-7; 2014 Utah State - vs. Air Force, 34-16

Worst loss: 2004 Utah - none; 2014 Utah State - @ Arkansas State, 21-14

Seasons summarized in a sentence: 2004 Utah went undefeated and handily defeated a Big East foe in what stands as the widest margin of victory for any BCS buster ever. 2014 Utah State, despite a rash of injuries at the most important position, quarterback, simply could not be counted out, leaning heavily on a hardy defense for just the second ten-win season in school history.

Fun fact: In 2014, Utah State won one game by at least 30 points, courtesy of a 41-7 win against San Jose State. In 2004, however, Utah accomplished that feat five times.

Memorable players

Utah: Before he became a controversial number one overall pick in the NFL Draft, Alex Smith not only won the MWC's Offensive Player of the Year award in 2004, he also finished fourth in voting for the Heisman Trophy, besting midmajor contemporaries like David Carr and Byron Leftwich. He finished fifth in the nation with a 67.5% completion rate, third with 9.3 yards per attempt and second in quarterback efficiency, tossing for 2,952 yards and 32 touchdowns with just four interceptions.

Chris Kemoeatu was part of the offensive line which kept Smith upright. On defense, Morgan Scalley finished among the nation's leaders with six interceptions while Steve Fifita and Sione Pouha earned all-conference honors by anchoring a strong defensive line.

Utah State: Chuckie Keeton was our staff's pick as the best player in the conference before 2014, but he played to uneven results and then got hurt, which meant we all became more familiar with the steady quarterbacks behind him on the depth chart: Darell Garretson and Kent Myers. The defense, which was the Aggies' calling card, was expected to be led by dynamic linebacker Kyler Fackrell, but he too was lost to injury.

It was thanks to breakout campaigns on both sides of the ball that USU found so much success: Zach Vigil finished second in the FBS with 154 tackles and tied for second in the MWC with nine sacks, while his brother Nick Vigil racked up 123 and 7, respectively, while chipping in three touchdowns on offense for good measure. Bruce "JoJo" Natson proved he was an ace return specialist, and Hunter Sharp finished fourth in the conference with 939 yards receiving.