The cruel irony -- if you can call it that -- is that Utah State football hasn't been this popular in years.
And much of that popularity rested on Chuckie Keeton's strong arm and shifty legs.
Now it's gone.
Keeton, the Aggies' star quarterback and a Heisman Trophy candidate, left Friday's 31-14 loss to BYU with a knee injury and did not return. After scrambling for an 8-yard run late in the first quarter, he fell awkwardly to the ground and laid there for several minutes clutching his left knee.
Prior to that moment Romney Stadium had been alive with anticipation of an exciting showdown with the Cougars and their quarterback, Taysom Hill. But as Keeton lay on the ground, the air seemed to leave the stadium and things just weren't the same.
"I think there was deflation a little bit in the whole stadium," USU coach Matt Wells said afterward.
When he mentioned "deflation," Wells wasn't talking about economics although in a very real sense the mental economy of the Aggies football program is now in a depression. Fans, students, faculty, coaches and teammates had all hitched themselves to Keeton's bright star.
They made huge emotional investments and now there won't be a return coming back.
At the risk of overplaying this analogy, I'd hate to see all those people left bankrupt.
See, it wasn't that long ago the Aggies ranked among the worst teams in college football. They went 1-11 in 2006, 2-10 in 2007. But the tide began turning just a few years later.
Under former head coach Gary Andersen they won seven games in 2011 and, of course, they went 11-2 last season.
Keeton had a terrific season in 2012, passing for more than 3,300 yards, rushing for 619 and accounting for 35 touchdowns.
Remember how sky-high the anticipation was a little more than a month ago as the Aggies prepared to open the season at Utah? There were questions about whether Utah State was the best team in the state. That's not much of a question now but Keeton still gets my vote as the state's best quarterback, or at least he was before the season-ending injury.
Before the injury he had throw for more than 1,800 yards and 18 TD passes. If healthy, how many more yards would have have passed for, run for? How many more scores would he have been responsible for?
Clearly, Aggie football had not only turned away from those terrible seasons in the middle of the decade, it had become something special. Utah's college football landscape had been dominated by the U of U and BYU for so long it was absolutely refreshing to see the Aggies come along and demand our attention.
And now? Well, let's hope the hope continues. When Utah State's program is strong it only adds to the strength of college football in the state.
After being taken to the locker room Friday, Keeton returned to the sidelines on crutches, wearing street clothes. It was good to seem him back with his team, though it was tough to see him on crutches. Late Saturday evening news broke that he'll remain out of uniform for the rest of the season and the effects of his absence will be devastating as the Aggies push through their Mountain West Conference season.
The BYU game was a sellout. Students camped out for tickets and we in the media made a huge deal about the showdown with the Cougars.
But the Aggies actually have a much bigger and more important home game with Boise State next Saturday. What will the atmosphere be like?
Will it be a sellout?
Will people still care?
I certainly hope so because there's still a lot to play for regardless of who's quarterbacking the team.