Then in 2010, BYU headed north to Logan and was thumped, 31-16. Jake Heaps made his first career start and his inexperience showed. Utah State’s defense hit him over and over again forcing two interceptions.
In 2011, Utah State had BYU on the ropes, holding a 24-13 lead at one point. Then the magic moment happened where Riley Nelson came off the bench to take on his former team. Nelson started for Utah State as a freshman in 2006. His father played football, and his grandfather was the head basketball coach and the athletic director at Utah State. It was the perfect script for a movie. Nelson rallied the troops and the Cougars fought back, capping the night with a 96-yard drive, ending on a deflected pass that was caught in the end zone by Marcus Matthews to take a 27-24 lead and win the game.
BYU versus Utah State has been around since 1922, with the two teams facing off 81 times, this week being number 82. The winner of the game stakes their claim to the Old Wagon Wheel, a trophy the Cougars have held 44 times and the Aggies 34, with three games ending in a tie. But until 2010, the Old Wagon Wheel was starting to grow roots in Provo. To BYU fans, at least, rivalry was a misnomer for the Utah State game. In that 2010 game however, the rivalry was reborn as the Wheel went to Utah State for the first time since 1993.
If you talk to any Utah State fan though, the rivalry never died. After practice on Monday, Riley Nelson, who grew up in Logan, said he always thought the game was a big deal before coming to Provo. “It’s interesting because I grew up with an Aggie perspective and then came down here to BYU where people didn’t pay much attention to the Aggies. It was a rivalry for them, then I came down here and realized it wasn’t so much for us,” he said.
The games the past two seasons have changed that. “If anything the Aggies have caused us Cougars to perk up and pay attention,” Nelson said. “And not just pay attention but expect a dogfight. If we don’t play our best game we’re going to get beat.”
Nelson knows firsthand how far Utah State has come in recent years. When he played there in 2006, the Aggies went 1-11, with their only win coming by one point over Fresno State. Head Coach Gary Anderson took over in 2009, and has steadily put Utah State on the map.
“I respect Utah State and their program. They’re 4-1 and a missed field goal away from being 5-0,” Nelson said. “I can’t speak highly enough of Coach Anderson and what he’s done with that program. Having been there during a 1-11 season and watching the turnaround that he’s made is absolutely breathtaking and amazing to me. I have the utmost respect for him, his staff and his players.”
Nelson isn’t the only one who has recognized Utah State’s rise in recent years. Bronco Mendenhall has seen it not only in the games his team has had to face the Aggies, but in the Aggies’ other games as well.
When asked if their games the past two seasons have revived this rivalry, Mendenhall answered, “They’re doing a really nice job. Not only how they’re playing this season but how they’ve played us the last two years, I think all of that cumulative. With the last two games, but also their record this year, they’re just building a nice program. It should be a great game.” Mendenhall even went as far to say that this is one of the toughest games he has had to prepare for this season, up with Boise State and Utah.
Not only is the Old Wagon Wheel up for grabs, but if Utah State wins this game, they will snag the Beehive Boot for only the fourth time since 1975, and only the eighth time in the history of the award. The Boot is awarded to the team with the best record between BYU, Utah, Utah State and Weber State in a given season. If BYU wins, the Cougars take home the Boot with a 2-1 record against those opponents, whereas Utah State and Utah will each end up 1-1. If Utah State wins, they will be 2-0 against those opponents and will claim both the Wheel and the Boot.
Now this sounds like a rivalry.
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