Generally speaking, if you were to ask most coaches if they approach games differently from week to week, they'd say that they don't and that they try to treat every week the same.
The overarching idea is to treat rivalry week the same way you treat an early season game against an FCS school because you don't want to project the message that one game means more than the other, opening the door of opportunity for a possible let-up leading to a loss in a game that you should have won.
Well as San Diego State head coach Rocky Long shared with USA Today, that isn't necessarily an approach that is adopted by all coaches. Long shared that part of their success as a program is attributed to how they approach games differently.
According to Long, the Aztecs aren't focused on crashing the party in the college football playoff. They have two distinct groups of games - the non-conference games are approached as "opportunity games" while the conference slate takes up their main focus. Bowl games? Those are the icing on the cake.
“That’s not our focus here. All of our non-conference games, which drives some people crazy, to me are opportunity games. It allows us to develop our team and it allows us to maybe beat some people we’re not supposed to beat. But our focus here is to win the conference championship.”
Long, who has built one of the most consistent winners in the Group of Five - going 32-9 over the past three seasons with two Mountain West titles - even goes as far as to share that it doesn't do them any good to win all of their games in his mind, because it doesn't change a single thing for them.
“I don’t think it does us any good to win them all. We could beat Power Five teams the next 10 times we play them. It doesn’t change anything. It does not change one thing. We’ll still be recruiting the same guys. We’ll still be playing in the same league. And the only thing that matter is that (conference) championship. Because they’re not going to give us a chance to win the other one. They are not going to give us a chance.