LOGAN — It’s an in-state rivalry that pits the projected favorites in the Big Sky and Western Athletic conferences against each other while featuring the top player in each league.

It’s a chess match between two coaches who know the other’s playing system as if it were their own — because it is.

Utah State and Weber State open the 2010-11 basketball season tonight at 7 p.m. at the Smith Spectrum, starting off against each other for the second year in a row.

Utah State coach Stew Morrill and Weber State coach Randy Rahe are the chess masters and they know their opponent well, having worked together for 13 seasons.

Morrill, in his 25th season as a college head coach, and his former assistant Rahe, in his fifth season at Weber State, will try to come up with a few surprises for each other while running the same system they operated together for so long.

“Nobody executes offensively in this country the way Stew Morrill’s teams do,” Rahe said. “At the same time, I’ve got some different players, some guys with different strengths. I give them a little more freedom in some areas and maybe do a few things different than he does, but there’s not a big difference.”

Under Rahe, Weber State employs the same flip card system Utah State uses to call plays, one as a decoy and one for the real play.

It’s the players that make the difference, Rahe says.

“It’s kind of an intrasquad scrimmage,” he said. “We basically have a pretty good understanding of what they’re trying to do and they (understand) us as well. Then it just comes down to the players, the execution and who does it better.”

No matter how familiar the opponent, the odds are against the visitors at the Smith Spectrum, where Utah State is 176-13 under Morrill, a .931 winning percentage.

Weber State is led by the reigning Big Sky MVP, junior guard Damian Lillard, who averaged 19.9 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game while taking the Wildcats to their second straight Big Sky regular season championship.

Utah State has won three consecutive WAC titles, led by preseason player of the year Tai Wesley. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound senior forward from Provo is the only active Division I player to total at least 1,200 points, 600 rebounds, 250 assists and 100 blocks in his career.

“Tai’s versatility is without question his strength,” Morrill said. “He doesn’t appear spectacular to those that watch him until you watch closely and see all the things he does on a basketball floor. I know as a coach it’s a luxury to have a player like Tai Wesley because you can do so many things with his skill level.”

With four returning starters from a team that has been to the NCAA tournament in back-to-back years, Utah State is the oldest team in the country, with an average age of 21 years and 4 months.

Senior guard Tyler Newbold is a stabilizing force for the Aggies, small forward Pooh Williams is a defensive presence and junior forward Brady Jardine is an athletic energy guy. Newbold and Williams were named to the preseason all-WAC second team, as was senior forward Nate Bendall, who is hobbled by foot problems and may struggle to play much this season.

Utah State graduated only all-WAC point guard Jared Quayle from its starting five, but the Aggies are excited about juco transfer Brockeith Pane’s potential to fill in at the point and be a defensive stopper who will likely draw the assignment of guarding Lillard tonight.

Off the bench, guard Brian Green, a Davis High product, shot 50 percent from beyond the arc as a junior.

Weber State’s lineup isn’t so settled.

Junior forward Kyle Bullinger is Weber State’s only returning starter besides Lillard. Bullinger will move to small forward instead of playing the 4, where he averaged 8.7 ppg and started every game the past two seasons.

Key starters Steve Panos, who averaged 10.6 ppg, and guard Nick Hansen, who added 9.9 ppg, are gone. Also departed is last season’s Big Sky newcomer of the year, Franklin Session, a forward who averaged 10.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Session transferred to Cal State Los Angeles.

Weber State brings back experience with senior guard Lindsey Hughey, who averaged 7.8 ppg last season. Junior forward Darin Mahoney averaged 2.9 points last season and senior center/forward Trevor Morris has played in 90 games over his career, averaging 4.5 points and 3.1 rebounds.

Off the bench, however, the young Wildcats have limited experience. Forwards Byron Fulton and Blake Davis each redshirted last year; two true freshmen, guard Jordan Richardson and center Kyle Tresnak, will play.

Sophomore juco transfer guard Scott Bamforth is expected contribute as a shooter but is out for a few weeks due to injury. B.J. Porter, a Layton Christian product who played at the University of Portland, is another sophomore transfer guard but is not eligible until December.

Transfer forward Frank Otis and freshman forward James Hajek will redshirt. Guard Josh Noble left the team for personal reasons in the preseason.