By TODD DVORAK,
Associated Press Writer
BOISE, Idaho (AP) Utah State is nearing the end of one of the most brutal schedules in school history.
First it was Oregon in week two, followed two weeks later with a trip to Utah and last month's date with Brigham Young, all ranked teams that easily brushed the Aggies aside.
Now comes another tough one, Saturday's matchup with No. 9 Boise State, a team that has beaten the Aggies seven straight and can't afford a letdown if it hopes to stay in contention for a Bowl Championship Series bid.
Not since 2001 - and before that in 1957 - has Utah State played four ranked teams in a single season. But the grueling schedule may now be paying some dividends, evidenced last week when the Aggies (2-7, 2-3) jumped out to an early lead and held on to upset Hawaii, the defending Western Athletic Conference champs.
"I feel like we have gotten better as a football team every week and we need to do that through November," Aggies coach Brent Guy said. "The feeling is we won a breakthrough game, but to make it a breakthrough game we have to play well against Boise State, and that is a challenge."
That's true for just about any team that travels to Boise these days.
The Broncos (8-0, 4-0) share with Oklahoma the nation's best home record since 2003. Boise State has posted a 36-1 record on the quirky blue turf, and the odds are even more daunting for conference foes, who have lost 50 of the last 52 games at Bronco Stadium.
"Playing in Boise has not been easy for anyone in the WAC," Guy said. "We are going to have to play our best football."
Despite the perfect record, Boise State coach Chris Petersen wants more from his offense. While the Broncos have outscored opponents 277-79, they've suffered spells of inconsistency and failed to fully capitalize on red-zone opportunities.
The defense, ranked second in the country to USC in points per game at 9.9, has been stung at times by costly penalties. The Broncos are among the WAC's most penalized teams, committing 63 on the season, costing an average of 71.8 yards per game.
"We really want to clean that area up," Petersen said this week. "We're better than that. Our guys are smarter than that."
The Broncos are coming off a 49-0 drubbing of New Mexico State, a win that moved them up two spots in the AP poll and the BCS standings.
Boise State's chances of getting to its second BCS game in three seasons took a hit Thursday night when No. 10 Utah knocked off No. 11 TCU 13-10.
The Utes of the Mountain West Conference are in eighth place in the BCS standings, two spots above Boise State. The puts Utah in the best shape to earn the one automatic bid that could go to teams from the five conferences without one.
After Utah State, the Broncos hit the road for games at Idaho (2-8) and Nevada (4-4) before closing out the season back in Boise against Fresno State (5-3).
"Our guys aren't going to be overlooking Utah State at all," Petersen said. "They've shown they can beat anybody in our league. I have a tremendous amount of respect for how hard those guys are playing. The tape doesn't lie."
Task number one for the Broncos defense will be keeping Aggies quarterback Diondre Borel in check.
Borel has started the last six games, winning two of them. But his effectiveness has improved in the last three, as he's rolled up 889 total yards. Against Hawaii last week, Borel threw for 223 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 113 more.
The Broncos' defense is no stranger to shifty, mobile quarterbacks. Earlier this season, Boise State shut down Southern Mississippi quarterback Austin Davis and two weeks ago throttled Hawaii's Inoke Funaki. But Petersen says Borel may be the most talented yet to line up against his defense.
"He's the best runner we've seen by far," Petersen said. "But what's changed over the season is his ability to throw the ball. He's elusive and makes things happen."