Oregon State finished third in its division in the Pac-12 and sixth overall in the conference but is a seven-point favorite over Utah State when the clubs meet Saturday in the inaugural Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl at Inglewood, Calif.
That doesn’t sit well with some of the Aggies (10-3), who are the champions of the Mountain West Conference and chasing the third 11-win campaign in program history.
Even Kimmel couldn’t crack a joke that would make Utah State standout linebacker Justin Rice smile, not after the Aggies thrashed then-No. 19 San Diego State 46-13 in the Mountain West title contest to land their bowl destination.
“We’re still an underdog in this game, even coming off a championship,” Rice said earlier this week. “We love the fact that nobody respects us. Nobody respected us at the beginning of the year, and we’ve just been leaning on ourselves and knowing that we can really play with people. And they’re just going to have to come out and play the game and find out for themselves.”
It’s reasonable to see why nobody figured the Aggies would be conference champions — Utah State went just 1-5 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Coach Blake Anderson was hired away from Arkansas State last December, and a new vibe energized the program. Quarterback Logan Bonner followed Anderson from Arkansas State and has set a school record with 36 touchdown passes and has 3,560 yards, 7 short of the record set by Jordan Love in 2018.
Receiver Deven Thompkins also has been superb with a school-record 1,589 receiving yards. His 96 catches are four shy of the Utah State mark set by Kevin Curtis in 2001.
Oregon State (7-5) will be trying to slow the Aggies despite not having top defender Avery Roberts, who underwent surgery on his lower leg. The NFL-bound linebacker leads the Pac-12 with 128 tackles.
The Beavers are in a bowl game for the first time since 2013 and also have posted a winning record for the first time since that season.
However, Oregon coach Jonathan Smith sounds like someone who wished he was facing a less accomplished opponent.
“They are aggressive on defense,” Smith said. “They like to get up the field the way they play up front. And they have good players.
“Offensively, they can score in bunches. They can do it throwing it, they can do it running it.”
Oregon State figures to give standout running back B.J. Baylor a lot of work. Baylor leads the Pac-12 with 1,259 rushing yards and is looking to become the first Beavers back to finish atop the conference since Steven Jackson (1,545) in 2003.
Baylor’s yardage ranks as the 10th most on Oregon State’s single-season list.
Oregon State has won all three meetings with the Aggies, the most recent encounter coming in 1998.
–Field Level Media