Idaho-Utah St. Preview
By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- Utah State has made the AP poll for the first time in 51 years. It's been considerably longer since it won a conference crown outright.
Tied for No. 25, the Aggies can clinch a sole league title for the first time since 1936 when they host lowly Idaho on Saturday.
Utah State (9-2, 5-0 Western Athletic Conference) hasn't enjoyed a season this successful since going 9-1-1 in 1961, when they were 10th in the Top 25. That was the last time the Aggies were seen in the poll.
They made their long-awaited return in dramatic fashion, beating then-No. 19 Louisiana Tech 48-41 in overtime Saturday. That secured at least a share of the WAC title and was Utah State's first road win over a ranked foe.
The Aggies were rewarded with 82 votes, putting them in a tie with Mississippi State for the final spot in the Top 25.
"It's a big accomplishment," coach Gary Andersen said of being ranked. "It is something that hasn't happened for a long time.
"It's fun to turn on your phone and pull it down, see those schools, have their logos listed and boom there is ours at 25. It's a pretty special moment."
The Aggies are on the cusp of another rare moment. A victory over the Vandals (1-10, 1-4) would give them their first outright league championship since winning the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title 76 years ago - a team coached by Dick Romney.
Utah State has claimed at least a share of a conference crown for the first time since 1997, when it was in the Big West. The Aggies are also looking for their first 10-win season.
"There are things that they can do that have never happened in the history of Utah State football," Andersen said. "That is pretty special. We will use that term a lot this week, because 'never' is a long time."
The Aggies' rise this season has been aided by one of the best defenses in the country. The team is seventh in the nation with 36 sacks and eighth in scoring defense at 16.0 points, while leading the WAC with 332.9 yards allowed per game - 107.2 rushing.
Utah State, though, didn't play like a top defensive team last week, giving up season highs of 629 yards and 233 on the ground.
They seem likely to bounce back against Idaho, last in the conference with 16.5 points per game. The Vandals' defense isn't much better, surrendering an average of 546.4 yards over the last five contests.
Andersen, though, is wary of the matchup as the Aggies fell 28-6 in the most recent meeting at Romney Stadium on Nov. 20, 2010. Utah State also needed double overtime to get past Idaho 49-42 on the road Nov. 19, 2011.
"We will definitely get Idaho's best shot and we have tremendous respect for their program and everything about it," Andersen said. "Idaho is going to come in here prepared to play."
Chuckie Keeton is looking to do the same for Utah State after a dazzling performance last week. The sophomore went 20 of 34 for 340 yards with two touchdowns, while rushing for 121 yards and two more scores.
He's topped 300 yards passing in each of the last three games and has 14 TDs to three interceptions over the past five.
Kerwynn Williams is another catalyst on offense for the Aggies, leading the WAC with 1,167 rushing yards and 6.4 per carry while leading the team with 39 receptions for 624 yards and 15 total touchdowns.
The senior showed off that versatility against Louisiana Tech, totaling 287 yards rushing and receiving while scoring three times, including a four-yard run for the OT score.
Idaho lost its fifth straight last weekend, 34-27 to Texas-San Antonio.
Taylor Davis will likely be back at quarterback after replacing senior Logan Bushnell, going 18 of 29 for 223 yards with three touchdowns and one interception Saturday.
Updated November 20, 2012