What does it feel like to be leading in the 4th quarter in nearly all your games in a season and still end up with a 7-6 record? To know you lost at the defending national champions because you failed to cover an obvious onside kick, or get kicked in the pants on homecoming night in double OT, or lose because of some miraculous heroics from your former starter who throws a game winning touchdown that glances off another guy into an unintended receiver’s hands has got to be guy-wrenching. And you know what, Gary Anderson, who is freshly inked up with an Aggie tattoo somewhere on his body knows exactly how that feels. He knows exactly how close 7-6 could have been as special as 13-0 which is entirely possible when you consider they lost 6 games by a combined 25 points, or barely 4 points per loss.
Gary Anderson is a miserable 15-22 after three seasons in Logan, Utah, but when you consider half those wins came last season, things are looking up for the Aggies. In fact, the team reached its first bowl game in 14 years last year when they faced Ohio in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. One thing to remark on with Anderson, he is no slouch in the recruiting department. For many years Utah State gathered the in-state scraps that BYU and Utah didn’t want. They are now competing with both their in-state rivals for talent that typically opted to walk on elsewhere but now excitedly chooses to be a scholarshipped player in Logan. One other thing to note, Anderson has turned his defensive coordinating duties to former Hawaii coordinator, Dave Aranda. This is significant because it will be one of his top priorities this season to help his team finish 4 full quarters of football and not give away so many golden opportunities.
Chuckie Keeton and Adam Kennedy both return after meaningful snaps last season at the quarterback position. Keeton is your mobile, athletic football player while Kennedy brings the passing threat and consistency. You also have to note that he was the one who took the Aggies on a 5 game winning streak to end the season and become bowl eligible in 2011. And Kennedy also has the ability to get out from pressure and move with his feet which should give him a leg up on Keeton this season. But when it counts, the Aggies have two very good choices to choose from.
Where the Aggies are going to need some serious help immediately is at the position they were so good at a season ago. Robert Turbin and Michael Smith combined for 2387 yards and 28 touchdowns as the running backs. Can senior Kerwynn Williams and true frosh Tavarreon Dickerson pick up the slack? Neither really has every-down back potential like Turbin did last season, but can they provide a balanced one-two punch every week?
The receiving corp has a bit more returning talent but they lack a big play guy. Seniors Chuck Jacobs and Matt Austin will be the primary targets but Travis Van Leeuwen and Travis Reynolds will push to be part of the regular rotation as well.
Along the offensive line, 3 of the 5 starters are returning starters, but both guard positions are up for grabs. This line should be good enough to handle the defenses of WAC opponents all season, but it may very well struggle against the heft of Utah or the speed of a BYU. And lets not overlook what a Wisconsin might do to the up front. The team has some good options, but they just don’t have any history to rely on for the two open guard positions.
Don’t expect much to change with this defense. Aranda may be play-calling but it is still Anderson’s defense at every level. Unfortunately, graduation stole players from each level of defense from a year ago and the team will need to fill in with a lot of new faces. The lone returning starter along the line is Al Lapuaho who played nose tackle in 2011 and will be asked to slide to and end position this season. Havea Lasike is expected to slide in at nose to replace Lapuaho. Connor Williams and JUCO transfer Paul Piukala figure to factor in prominently along the line.
Linebacking will be tough this season as Aranda has to replace all four of his previous tenants. He seems to have found his replacements with Tavaris McMillan, Jake Doughty, Bojay Filimoeatu, and Kyler Fackrell. Expect some early season growing pangs as this unit works to come together as one.
The secondary had a miserable time in 2011 in forcing turnovers and that always causes problems for the whole defense once a QB understands he is safe to test those waters. Returning cornerback starters Jumanne Robertson and Nevin Lawson look to improve turnovers. McKade Brady will play at either stong safety or in the free position, but that other safety position will be where the most exposure will be had early on. It may take a few games, but the overall experience of this unit should provide some solid play in the defensive backfield for the Aggies in 2012.
Games to watch
Utah and BYU will both be huge games for Utah State and don’t forget about the trip to Camp Randall after hosting the Utes. After the BYU game though, this schedule gets incredibly soft.
The Aggies are going to win in Southern Utah but then will lose the next two at home to Utah and at Wisconsin. I like them to avenge themselves in Ft Collins against Colorado State and then take care of hapless UNLV. BYU will be another dog fight but BYU will win leaving them with their last loss of the season. USU will win out en route to a 9-3 record pending a bowl game invite. 9-3 should have this Aggie nation feeling very good about their program as they head to the Mountain West Conference in 2013.