Aggies fight for respect even when they contend


LOGAN — We know the old adage: If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

A similar question might be asked of Utah State football if the Aggies finish first in their division but hardly anyone witnesses it.

That’s the dilemma USU (7-4, 6-1 Mountain West Conference) faces this weekend, when a win over Wyoming (5-6, 3-4) clinches the MW Mountain Division title. The winningest senior class in USU history will also be honored.

But in attracting fans to Romney Stadium for the banner day, the Aggies face competition from Thanksgiving weekend and warm homes.

The holiday means USU students are out of school, which athletics director Scott Barnes described via email as the athletic department’s “biggest concern.” According to the USU registrar’s office, the permanent homes of a strong majority of students lie outside of Cache Valley. That means the USU campus resembles a ghost town over the Thanksgiving break.

That’s why the department is offering multiple promotions, Barnes said. One is a “November 30 Doubleheader Ticket Special,” where fans can get tickets for the USU-BYU basketball game and the USU-Wyoming game for a combined $40. Barnes specifically mentioned $5 tickets for all Cache Valley high school students.

The lack of support was already apparent in the Aggies’ last game against Colorado State, when most students likely were still on campus for classes through Tuesday.

Against the Rams, USU registered its first shutdown in 10 years. Yet, despite an announced attendance of 20,284, the stadium was no more than two-thirds full — and less than half of the student section was occupied. It was a similar story for the previous home game with Hawaii, despite an announced attendance of 21,428.

“Student attendance wasn’t near what we had hoped,” Barnes wrote.

Previously, however, the Aggies enjoyed three straight sellouts (25,513 attendance), which had never happened before. Yet two of the contests were losses to BYU and Boise State in as many weeks. Fans flocked to the BSU game even though Heisman candidate quarterback Chuckie Keeton went down for the season the previous week.

Barnes still seeks understanding about the inconsistent student attendance.

“We continue to work with student campus leaders to understand why and develop strategies that hopefully enhance their experience and attendance,” Barnes wrote, adding that the issue is a concern across college football and basketball.

Last season, the Aggies’ September contest against UNLV was a near-sellout (24, 226). That followed a capacity crowd for the Utah game. But attendance at USU’s last three games, when the Aggies led the Western Athletic Conference, was relatively poor. The New Mexico State contest (Oct. 20) had an announced attendance of just 17,001. The next game with Texas State (Nov. 3) was just 17,222. Their next Logan contest (Nov. 24), when the Aggies beat Idaho to win the WAC championship, saw a slightly better crowd (19,350). That contest was played two days after the turkey day, like the Wyoming game will be.

“It isn’t where we want it — particularly during cold weather games,” Barnes said.

Logan native Josh Thompson said earlier this month that his hometown has become more “football-savvy” and that the program “isn’t going to falter at all.” He also said this week that he “wasn’t surprised at all” with the low turnout for the CSU game, also citing the cold weather.

The mean temperature was 34 degrees last Saturday, with swirling winds as fast as 13 miles per hour. The Hawaii contest’s mean temperature was the same. The NMSU, Texas State and Idaho contests were played in mean temperatures of 58, 44 and 36 degrees, respectively. All were played in the afternoon.

USU did set a record for season ticket sales earlier this season. Despite losing former coach Gary Andersen, it sold 8,556 season tickets by Sept. 6, in advance of its home season opener against Weber State. The previous season, 6,765 season seats were sold for the entire year.

• WYOMING’S WILES: To win the Mountain Division and advance to the MW championship game, the Aggies must overcome quarterback Brett Smith and a Cowboys club needing one win to become bowl-eligible. With 640 total yards and seven touchdown passes, Smith set multiple records last week against Hawaii. The total offense is new Wyoming career and single-game records, while the yards and touchdowns are the most in the NCAA this season.

Smith is a dual threat, throwing for 3,213 yards and rushing for another 579 yards this fall.

He faces a defense that is seventh in the nation in scoring (17.6 points per game).

Wyoming offensive coordinator Pete Kaligis said the group is the best defense the Cowboys will face all season. “They are fun to watch,” Kaligis said. “You can tell they have fun playing the game because they swarm to the ball.”

• SHORT-LIVED SENIORS? The 22 seniors who will be honored on Saturday are the winningest senior class in school history. Wells didn’t dwell on their record for too long.

“They’ve maybe have it for 12 months, but we’ll see,” Wells said, reminding that last year’s senior class also held the distinction for less than one year. “They’ll have that on their senior list of accomplishments.”

Led by 13 seniors who started games, USU entered this season as the second-most experienced team in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Three seniors, all roommates, are from Florida.

• INJURIES: Starting cornerback Rashard Stewart is day-to-day after being carried off Merlin Olsen Field on a stretcher against CSU. Receiver Travis Reynolds was helped off the field two plays later and is questionable. Reynolds leads all USU receivers in receptions (51) and yards (832).

• BRIDGER’S BATTLE: USU and Wyoming will continue its series, the fourth-most played in Aggie history, today with the nickname of “Bridger’s Battle.” The winner will take home the traveling “Bridger Rifle,” a .50 caliber Rocky Mountain Hawken rifle widely considered to be what Bridger carried. Each year’s game score will be notched into the maple stock.

• ETC: The Aggies are among the top 30 teams in the nation in 16 different statistical categories, including seventh in scoring defense, 12th in total defense, 14th in passing efficiency defense and 15th in rushing defense. … Punter Jaron Bentrude earned honorable mention National Punter Performer of the Week honors from College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) after downing a career-high eight punts inside the 20 against CSU. … Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando was named a nominee for the 2013 Broyles Award, created in 1996 to honor the top assistant college football coach in America.

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