Just what will it take for Utah State to beat USC?
Perhaps the Aggies' level of play the past two weeks -- resulting in blowouts of Air Force and Weber State -- will be enough?
Tyler Larsen and Travis Reynolds were sure in their answer.
"Definitely," the seniors said.
They sure hope so. After all, in their USU careers, both have seen too many close losses to their liking against top BCS teams.
In 2010, it was a one-touchdown decision at Oklahoma after Diondre Borel and the offense didn't score in the fourth quarter.
In 2011, the Aggies gave up a 10-point lead with 3:38 left against Auburn, the defending national champion.
Last year, it was Josh Thompson's missed field goal that allowed Wisconsin to escape with that two-point victory.
Larsen also played in a one-score loss at Texas A&M in 2009 before suffering an injury and taking a medical redshirt.
"The fighting mentality has always been there -- you've seen it," running back Joey DeMartino said. "It's always been one play that has turned it around for us that didn't get us the victory we needed."
Kickoff is 1:30 p.m. today at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
DeMartino acknowledged that through last year's Wisconsin game, the Aggies in those big-time contests still had not moved past that "fighting mentality" into believing they would win.
Now, he says, that's different.
"We're ready to go in all phases and we're not going to shy away from this game," he said.
Reynolds agreed, stating that a high count of underclassmen fostered a lack of confidence. Now, the team is the second-most experienced team in the Football Bowl Subdivision, according to Phil Steele's College Football Preview. Thirteen seniors and seven juniors have started games. They have a third-year starter in quarterback Chuckie Keeton, currently tied for first in the nation in touchdown passes (12).
"Instead we now play like a team that is going to win," Reynolds said.
Senior Quinton Byrd agreed.
"I've been here for four years and the program has changed a lot mentality," said Byrd, one of the defensive backs being asked to cover Marqise Lee, last year's Biletnikoff Award winner. "We are moving into a win-every-game mentality, and the point total will be on our side."
The 11th-youngest head coach in the FBS wasn't quite sure how to describe the significance of finally being on the right side of the scoreboard in a big-time setting. The Aggies will be on ABC for the first time since 1978 against a team that took until week three to decide a starting quarterback (sophomore Cody Kessler).
"It would be a milestone for the program," Matt Wells said. "It would be a benchmark and it would be huge. All that stuff is an understatement."
Why Reynolds believes his team will beat this "big dawg" if it plays the way it has the past two games: a fast-starting offense and a stout defense. In the first three quarters of each of its last two games, USU has scored 115 combined points. Overall, it ranks eighth nationally in scoring. The defense has allowed just one touchdown in the past game-and-a-half.
Larsen says Reynolds' points are part of the game plan -- part a larger brand of Aggie football in his career.
"We've always been able to hang with people," he said."(Larger programs) have looked down our smaller team in Utah and don't respect us that much."
It's why DeMartino looks forward to carrying the ball a team that is second nationally in rushing defense, third in sacks and fourth in total defense. He rushed for 105 yards last week and will likely be a featured back with Joe Hill this week.
DeMartino grew up watching former Trojans star Reggie Bush, a fellow San Diego native.
"Being from Southern California, USC is the dream school to go to when you grow up out there," he said Monday. "Having the opportunity to actually play against them is kind of an even better feeling now because I used to think there was no team on the same level as USC.
"But now coming to Utah State and seeing our program completely change around after the last four years, I like this opportunity even better to get a 'W' against them."
NOTES: USU is listed among the other schools receiving votes in this week's USA Today coaches' poll as it garnered five votes to rank tied for 39th in the nation. ... USU will play on natural grass for the first and only time this year at USC. USU has not played on natural grass in its last 10 games dating back to Oct. 5, 2012 when it played at BYU. ...
USU has won 18 of its last 22 games, which is USU's best stretch since going 18-2-1 during the 1960-61 seasons. ... USU is facing a pair of Pac-12 opponents (Aug. 29 at Utah; Sept. 21 at USC) in 2013 for the first time since 1998. ... USU's next four games on its schedule are all against teams who participated in bowl games a year ago.