Umm ... maybe not. Time to get familiar with the Utah State Aggies.
These Aggies will be one of two newcomers to the MW next year, along with the San Jose State Spartans. (The Spartans announced their intentions to be a MW title contender this past week by knocking off a team they'll be replacing, San Diego State.)
Meanwhile, in Fort Collins, the Aggies were also serving notice on their new conference, beating Colorado State 31-19. Known nationally for being team "near miss" over the past couple of seasons, these Aggies have learned how to close games - a last second missed field goal against two-time defending Big Ten champion Wisconsin that cost them a win in week three notwithstanding. The week after the Rams toppled their in-state rival from the Pac 12, Colorado, the Aggies did the same to their in-state Pac 12 rival, beating Utah in overtime. (FYI: Colorado is 1-0 in Pac 12 play and 0-2 against the MW ... ). After the 16-14 defeat in Madison the following week, it would have been understandable if there was a hangover when USU traveled to Fort Collins. That it didn't turn out that way is a sign of growth for the program. They've now won four of their last five road games.
The loss in Madison was the second time in two seasons that a perennial power walked off its home field totally relieved to have escaped Utah State. In 2011, defending national champion Auburn was nearly knocked off in their season opener before pulling out a 42-38 nail biter. Those Aggies didn't respond as well as this year's version. Before last season was over, USU had played in 10 games decided by one score, going 5-5 (including dropping their first four games) before losing by a single point to Ohio in their bowl game.
The 2012 Aggies have designs on a conference title in the final year of football for that league. Their chances look good. They've proven to be fast starters, not allowing a first half touchdown through the first four games and outscoring their opponents 51-0 in the first quarter this season. Dual threat quarterback Chuckie Keeton has led the way, and standout tailback Kerwynn Williams - who dashed for a game high 205 yards and a pair of touchdowns against CSU - can produce a big play every time he touches the ball.
So the question is, can these Aggies fill the sizeable cleats of Boise State when the Broncos depart the conference? After watching USU play three times early this season, and noting the amount of young talent on their roster, it's tough to say they can't. Of course we'll find out more soon enough. A meeting with rejuvenated UNLV comes up this week in what will be their second and final MW preview. USU also tangles with rival BYU the first week of October. The Broncos and Cougars fought it out in a tight defensive struggle that Boise State captured by a single point this past week.
"This is a big, big victory," USU head coach Gary Andersen said after the CSU game. "I don't know how many times I've come here, but I know I'm not .500 when I've come here."
Looking ahead to his future days in the MW, Andersen smiled.
"We're very excited about the opportunity to play in the Mountain West," he said. "This is a hard place to play. It's always a tough-minded, physical football team. The kids executed and made some big plays when they had to make big plays, especially when Colorado State answered there and we were able to answer right back."
No one questions the fact that all the teams in the new-look MW will have to collectively step up to keep the conference among the nation's best. This year's newcomers, Fresno State, Nevada and Hawai'i look like they will do their part. Colorado State, New Mexico, Wyoming and UNLV all seem to be on the uptick, and Air Force remains Air Force. Add in San Jose State and Utah State in 2013, and tangling with a team from MW isn't going to be any easier than it's been in recent years.