BYU, Utah, Utah State have chance to make this a one-of-a-kind football season

College Sports

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UTAH (ABC4) – The 2021 college football season could be one for the books for the state’s three biggest programs, BYU, Utah, and Utah State.

Heading into conference championship weekend, Utah and Utah State have a chance – and then an additional opportunity in each school’s bowl game to join BYU as 10-win teams. Never before in the state’s history have all three schools earned a double-digit win total in the same year. Only twice have two schools had 10 or more wins in the same year when BYU and Utah both surpassed the total in 1994 and 2008.

Both the Utes and the Aggies enter their respective conference title bouts – Utah against Oregon in Las Vegas on Friday and Utah State against San Diego State in Los Angeles on Saturday with 9-3 records. BYU, which plays as an independent and won’t hit the field again until the Cougars’ bowl game, likely the Independence Bowl, already has a 10-2 season locked up.

History has a decent chance to be made this year.

Utah’s up-and-down road to Vegas

The Utes have a chance to put the finishing touches on a magical season this week. Should Utah defeat Oregon for the second time this season, the program will have clinched its first-ever Pac-12 championship and punched its ticket for the first time to the ‘granddaddy of them all,’ the Rose Bowl.

Getting to this point wasn’t easy though. It’s not a stretch to suggest that 2021 has been the most mentally taxing season of all time for the Utes. Not only were they reeling from the death of star running back Ty Jordan in December, but the team’s anguish was compounded by the murder of Aaron Lowe in September.

With heavy hearts and a season dedicated to the number 22, which was worn by both Jordan and Lowe, who were best friends and recruited from the same high school in Texas, the Utes finally caught their stride to finish the year. The start of the season was a bit rocky with losses to BYU and San Diego State in September and an additional stumble at Oregon State on Oct. 23 but Utah has found themselves in the top 15 at the end of the regular season.

An undefeated 6-0 mark at home and an 8-1 record in conference games have solidified this as one of head coach Kyle Whittingham’s finest jobs yet, especially considering the tragic circumstances that have plagued the team at times.

BYU making the most of independent schedule

Despite losing quarterback Zach Wilson, who was drafted second overall by the New York Jets in last year’s NFL Draft, BYU hasn’t missed a stride in 2021.

One of the Cougar faithful’s favorite bragging points, in addition to finally beating Utah for the first time since 2008, was the team’s perfect mark against opponents who play in the Pac-12. The Cougars have also claimed state supremacy with a win over Utah State in Logan on Oct. 1.

The losses in back-to-back weeks to Boise State and Baylor are the lone blemishes in a solid year for BYU, who will wait to see who their bowl game opponent is, sitting with a top 15 ranking as well.

With changes on the horizon, including a move to the Big 12 Conference in 2023, head coach Kalani Sitake has been rumored as a candidate for some of the biggest job openings around the nation, although he has stated his focus is on finishing the season and seeking win No. 11.

Aggies surprising many under first-year head coach

The Aggies have had a series of mixed results in the last decade. Under head coach Gary Andersen, who came over after success as an assistant at Utah, Utah State reached the 10-win mark for the first time in 2012. After Andersen departed for the top job at Wisconsin, former Aggie quarterback Matt Wells led the squad to double-digit wins in 2014 and 2018. He then left for Texas Tech and was replaced by Andersen, who returned after losing his job with the Badgers and later with Oregon State. Andersen’s second tenure was short-lived and he was let go halfway through 2020.

Even in the turmoil that surrounded his hiring, first-year coach Blake Anderson has quickly made Utah State a winner once again. Wide receiver Deven Thompkins, who stands at just 5-foot-8, has been a major player in the equation, leading the nation in receiving yards while breaking nearly every school single-season record this year.

With only losses to Boise State, BYU, and Wyoming in the ‘L’ column, the Aggies are set to play for the Mountain West Conference title against San Diego State in Carson, Calif., just outside of L.A., on Saturday.

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