Utah State showed they were tired of being the little brothers in 2012, topping Utah in a thrilling overtime win, their first in the lopsided rivalry in 15 years. But after a spectacular 11-win season and the final WAC football championship, the Aggies lose their head coach and star running back -- and now have to contend with a Utah team looking for revenge in their season-opener.
There's a definite power system in place in the 120-year-old rivalry named "The Battle of the Brothers." Utah is the guys who always win, primarily focused on their other Beehive State rivals, BYU, while treating the Aggies like second-rate enemies.
But led by quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who had 216 yards passing and 86 yards rushing, Utah State won last year's game 27-20 in OT, snapping a 12-game losing streak against Utah. But everything had to go right -- the Aggies blocked a punt for a touchdown, Utah's starting QB Jordan Wynn hurt his shoulder -- and the best USU team in recent memory still needed overtime to beat a Utes squad that stumbled to a 5-7 finish.
So there's a lot at stake here with both squads trying to get their season off to a strong start:
Rankings and records: These two squads have played since 1892, and Utah is historically dominant. They've won 78 of 102 meetings, and most of Utah State's wins came early in the rivalry. Utah had won 12 straight and 20 of 22 heading into last year's game. Utah State moves to the Mountain West with the closing of the WAC, while Utah enters its third year in the Pac-12 hoping for their first winning conference record. The Aggies were in the "other receiving votes" of both the AP and Coaches polls, Utah was not.
Vegas: The Utes are 2.5-point favorites, but since this game is in Salt Lake City, that's basically saying this would be a pick'em at a neutral site. The over/under is 51 points.
Weather: 94, a little cloudy and a slight chance of rain.
Three names to know
Chuckie Keeton: Keeton's on the short list of elite quarterbacks on non-BCS teams -- SB Nation interviewed him about being named to the Maxwell Award watch list -- as the 6'2, 200-pound Houston product is a dynamic playmaker. He's a better thrower than runner -- 67.6 percent completion percentage, 27 touchdowns against just nine interceptions -- but he can also make plays on the ground. With Kerwynn Williams gone to the NFL, the offense loses its other star and a solid target in the passing game, and Keeton will have to step up.
Travis Wilson: Sorry to pick two QB's, but they're both obvious choices. A four-star recruit, Wilson started his true freshman year as a third-stringer and ended up starting the last seven games of the season. He threw nearly as many picks as touchdowns, but completed 62.7 percent of his passes and got Utah three wins against the Pac-12's dregs. But bigger things are expected for him after easily winning the No. 1 spot on the depth chart.
Matt Wells: It's the first game for the 40-year-old as Utah State moves on from Gary Andersen. He's quickly risen, going from QB coach in 2011 to offensive coordinator last year to head coach now. Andersen clearly had faith in him putting him at offensive coordinator, and Andersen tends to make smart football decisions.
Two things at stake
1. Rivalry rep: Utah State wants to show they're for real, a legitimate contender in a one-sided hate affair. Utah wants to prove that their loss last year was a one-year fluke, and that they'll remain the controlling figure in this relationship forever and ever.
2. Utah State's legitimacy: The Aggies were brilliant last year, losing two games by a combined five points, literally a pair of field goals from being undefeated. But that was in the WAC, and even if they'd turned one of those games into a win, they probably would not have found themselves in a BCS bowl. On the other hand, if Utah State went undefeated -- or even close -- in the Mountain West, they'd definitely make it into a big name bowl. But they'll have to prove they can beat a big conference team Week 1.
How to witness
TV: The game will be the first college football broadcast on the new Fox Sports 1 network. Here's the announcing crew for tonight's game at 8 p.m.:
Play-by-Play: Justin Kutcher
Analyst: Joel Klatt/Petros Papadakis
Sideline: Kristina Pink
Radio: Utah's broadcast will be on ESPN 700 in Salt Lake City. Utah State's will be on these stations, including 610 KVNU.
SB Nation's Utah blog is Block U, who recently discussed whether they were buying or selling the 2013 Utes:
I think Utah is on the upswing. The transition to the Pac-12 hurt, and we definitely took a few steps back these past two seasons, but I believe 2013 will prove to be the year the Utes take a giant step forward.
SB Nation's Mountain West Connection will now provide coverage of Utah State football now that it falls under their umbrella.