The Rant Sports 100 teams in 100 days continues with a look at our No. 43 team, the Utah State Aggies.
Head coach Gary Andersen lit a fire under the Aggies last season, leading them to a 7-6 overall record and a 5-2 Western Athletic Conference record, good for second place in the division; impressive considering a choppy, 2-5 start. The Aggies won some close ones, but perhaps their best performance was a 42-38 loss to Auburn in Week One. While a win would have been a revelation, Utah State’s showing was still an pronouncement that Aggies are growing into somewhat of a force.
The Aggies will welcome running back Kerwynn Williams, who was recently put on the Doak Walker Award watch list, and center Tyler Larsen, on the Outland Trophy watch list, as well as quarterbacks Chuckie Keeton (1,200 yards, 2 interceptions, 11 touchdowns) and Adam Kennedy (972 yards, 4 interceptions, 11 touchdowns), a nice tandem if either is injured. In fairness, Keeton is the incumbent, but Kennedy had a fine showing as a true freshman in the loss to Auburn.
However, Utah State will miss their leading rushers from 2011, Robert Turbin and Michael Smith (Turbin is now with the Seattle Seahawks). Williams, who gained over 500 yards last season in spot duty will have the task of proving he can be an every-down back. If he does, the Aggies’ offense will be potent.
However, Utah State is waiting to see a No. 1 receiver emerge. Last year, while the Aggies were ranked No. 20 in the NCAA in overall offense, they were ranked 97th in passing offense. While the WAC crown is there to be had, Utah State must improve the passing attack. Look for Matt Austin and Chuck Jacobs as the favorites and Alex Wheat as a potential contributor.
Tougher still will be handling the loss of offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin, who left USU for a similar position at Colorado State. Matt Wells, who coached the quarterbacks in 2011, takes over.
Last year, Andersen himself ran the defense with some measure of success. He has since given the job to Dave Aranda, who ran the defense at Hawaii, which moved from 114th overall in 2009 to 79th in 2011. Aranda will have his work cut out for him, rebuilding the 3-4, front seven with an eye on heavy blitzing and the replacement of stellar inside linebackers Bobby Wagner (Seattle Seahawks) and Kyle Gallagher. Outside linebacker Tavaris McMillian is expected to move inside.
In the secondary, experience rules with McKade Brady returning at safety and Nevin Lawson and Jumanne Robertson, who both need to show improvement, back at cornerback.
The schedule will be kind to the Aggies, who look to finish as a bowl-eligible team once again. Still, early games against Utah (Sept. 7) and at Wisconsin (Sept. 15) will make for a tough start. In fact, winning the conference is not out of the question, as 5-2 may be all it takes this year.