2013 Utah State football's 10 things to know: What happens next?

Tom Lynn

Utah State was fantastic in 2012, but the Aggies are now tasked with starting over after the loss of both their head coach and defensive coordinator to Wisconsin. Can Matt Wells and a couple of new coordinators keep the momentum going for a team that still has quite a few stars?

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. Now what?

Don't pretend like you know what's going to happen next. You don't. Neither do I.

For both Utah State and San Jose State, fortunes have changed dramatically in recent years. Before Gary Andersen, Utah State was basically nonexistent on the football landscape. The Aggies had gone to bowls in 1993 and 1997, sure, and they had certainly made some noise 50 years earlier under eventual Stanford head coach John Ralston (they finished 9-1-1 and 10th in the AP polls in 1961). But they also didn't experience a winning season between 1996 and 2011, and they hadn't ever been ranked since Ralston left for Palo Alto.

In 2012, not only did Utah State finish 16th in the polls and win 11 games (more than former head coach Brent Guy won in four seasons from 2005-08), but the program looked like it belonged, like it had always belonged. With a steady quarterback, an explosive running game, and the best mid-major defense in the country -- at ninth overall in Def. F/+, the Aggies ranked ahead of BYU, Rutgers, TCU, and Notre Dame -- the Aggies had the look and feel of a great team and came within six points of finishing undefeated.

But that was 2012. In 2013, the vast majority of last year's playmakers return, but the makeup on the sideline (and in the booth) is totally different. Gary Andersen, who inherited a team that ranked 105th in F/+ in 2008 and improved from 100th, to 66th, to 17th in his final three seasons, is now the head coach at Wisconsin. Magnificent defensive coordinator Dave Aranda followed Andersen to Madison. Former offensive coordinator Matt Wells, a USU grad, takes over as head coach, and Kevin McGiven (former Montana State offensive coordinator) and Todd Orlando (former UConn and FIU defensive coordinator) are his top assistants.

This could work out swimmingly, of course, but at this point we have no idea. What we do know, however, is that the back half of USU's schedule is filled with enough easy games that, even if Wells is not able to maintain last year's pace, the Aggies should be successful enough to attend a third straight bowl for the first time.

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 11-2 | Adj. Record: 13-0 | Final F/+ Rk: 17
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
30-Aug Southern Utah 34-3 W 36.8 - 11.9 W
7-Sep Utah 27-20 W 29.1 - 18.5 W
15-Sep at Wisconsin 14-16 L 24.8 - 12.5 W
22-Sep at Colorado State 31-19 W 34.0 - 22.2 W
29-Sep UNLV 35-13 W 35.3 - 20.3 W
5-Oct at BYU 3-6 L 24.5 - 19.5 W
13-Oct at San Jose State 49-27 W 51.6 - 22.6 W
20-Oct New Mexico State 41-7 W 36.2 - 24.9 W
27-Oct at UTSA 48-17 W 34.0 - 17.4 W
3-Nov Texas State 38-7 W 36.8 - 11.8 W
17-Nov at Louisiana Tech 48-41 W 38.4 - 26.1 W
24-Nov Idaho 45-9 W 17.7 - 12.9 W
15-Dec vs. Toledo 41-15 W 40.1 - 14.0 W
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 34.9 26 15.4 7
Adj. Points Per Game 33.8 30 18.0 6

2. From very good to great

For the first half of the season, Utah State looked, basically, like your typical mid-major upstart. The Aggies took out Utah in what seemed like a more impressive win at the time (as it turned out, Utah wasn't very good), then missed a late field goal that would have beaten eventual Big Ten champion Wisconsin. A competitive win over Colorado State and a tight, no-offense loss to BYU suggested the Aggies were a Top 40 team, but perhaps nothing too much more than that.

Starting with the San Jose State game, however, USU found another gear.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 6 games): Utah State 30.8, Opponent 17.5 (plus-13.3)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 7 games): Utah State 36.4, Opponent 18.5 (plus-17.9)

The defense was tremendous from start to finish, but the offense found its rhythm after struggling so much against BYU. The Aggies gained 485 yards against a pretty good San Jose State defense, then improved their yardage total for another four games in a row: 516 versus New Mexico State, 522 versus UTSA, 593 versus Texas State, and 646 versus Louisiana Tech. By late-November, this was one of the best teams in the country at any level. A whipping of Toledo in the Idaho Potato Bowl just sealed the deal.

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 21 30 56 16
RUSHING 26 24 88 8
PASSING 38 37 36 39
Standard Downs 38 71 25
Passing Downs 18 28 16
Redzone 12 17 10
Q1 Rk 45 1st Down Rk 49
Q2 Rk 27 2nd Down Rk 33
Q3 Rk 49 3rd Down Rk 17
Q4 Rk 24

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Chuckie Keeton 6'2, 200 Jr. ** (5.3) 275 407 3,373 67.6% 27 9 17 4.0% 7.7
Craig Harrison 6'2, 208 Jr. NR 8 9 63 88.9% 0 0 1 10.0% 5.5
Adam Kennedy


1 1 0 100.0% 0 0 0 0.0% 0.0
Jeff Manning 6'4, 200 RSFr. ** (5.2)






Darrell Garretson 6'0, 190 Fr. *** (5.5)






3. Seriously, how did Chuckie Keeton get out of Texas?

Here's what I said abut Utah State's quarterback last year:

Chuckie Keeton was a successful quarterback at Houston's Cypress Creek high school, but despite decent measurables (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) and lovely stats (961 rushing yards, 2,320 passing yards), he received no major offers, eventually choosing Utah State over Air Force, Memphis, Nevada and Rice. He was given a low two-star rating by Rivals.com. But while Texas quarterbacks with better ratings and bigger offers were either redshirting last year or, in David Ash's case, getting thrown into the fire in Austin, Keeton was completing 61 percent of his passes, avoiding interceptions and rushing for nearly 400 yards for a rock solid offense in Logan, Utah.

In 2012, Utah State's overall offensive ratings sank a bit, mostly because of a couple of games in the first half of the season, but it's hard to pin that on Keeton. The then-sophomore improved his completion percentage from 61 to 68, lowered his sack rate from 5.4 to 4.0, improved his yards-per-attempt from 6.1 to 7.7, and improved his yards-per-carry from 6.3 to 6.5. He struggled against the two best defenses he faced (Wisconsin, BYU), but even in those games he struggled in a "playing it safe" kind of way: 40-for-72 passing for 383 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. He is, for the most part, a low-risk quarterback, but if you've got Keeton's legs, you can get away with that.

And when you're sharing the backfield with an outright stud, that's even better.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
Kerwynn Williams RB 218 1,512 6.9 10.0 15 +38.3
Chuckie Keeton QB 6'2, 200 Jr. ** (5.3) 112 724 6.5 6.4 8 +17.8
Joe Hill RB 5'11, 185 Jr. ** (5.2) 44 271 6.2 5.8 7 +6.8
Kelvin Lee RB 5'10, 183 So. ** (5.3) 29 130 4.5 3.4 0 -3.1
Robert Marshall RB 6'0, 223 Sr. ** (5.4) 17 74 4.4 2.6 0 -1.1
Devonta Glover-Wright CB 6'0, 170 Sr. *** (5.5) 12 66 5.5 3.2 0 -0.5
Joey DeMartino RB 5'11, 210 Sr. NR





Rashad Hall RB 6'1, 205 Jr. ** (5.2)




Karris Johnson RB 5'11, 205 Fr. ** (5.4)




4. System vs. Star

It's easy to look at USU's rushing stats from the last couple of seasons and assume that the Aggies had something of a plug-and-play run game. In 2011, Robert Turbin ran for 1,527 yards (6.1 per carry) and scored 19 touchdowns while backups Michael Smith and Kerwynn Williams combined for another 1,397 (7.1 per carry). In 2012, Williams took over and produced numbers nearly identical to Turbin's (1,512 yards, 6.9 per carry, 15 touchdowns) with solid backup play from Joe Hill and Kelvin Lee (401 yards, 5.5 per carry). With Matt Wells taking over as head coach, one could reasonably assume that, with Williams gone, Hill (or whoever) will assume the No. 1 spot and rush for about 1,500 yards. And maybe that ends up being a correct assumption.

But let's not downplay just how explosive Williams was in 2012. With a faulty line ahead of him -- USU's Adj. Line yards ranking sank from 20th in 2011 to 87th in 2012 following the loss of two two-year starters and a three-year starter up front -- Williams didn't get a high percentage of chances to break loose into the secondary. But when he did, he went all the way. Of the 52 FBS players with at least 200 carries in 2012, Williams had the best per-carry Highlight Yardage average, and it wasn't even close.

Highlight Yards Per Carry (running backs with at least 200 carries)
1. Kerwynn Williams (10.0)
2. Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona (7.1)
3. Venric Mark, Northwestern (6.5)
4. Todd Gurley, Georgia (6.5)
5. Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt (6.5)
6. Johnathan Franklin, UCLA (6.4)
7. D.J. Harper, Boise State (6.2)
8. Adam Muema, San Diego State (6.1)
9. Kasey Carrier, New Mexico (5.9)
10. Kendial Lawrence, Missouri (5.8)

With better blocking, Williams could have approached 2,000 yards. Hill certainly showed some solid explosiveness himself, but he didn't show that. The line should improve a bit, but with a new receiving corps (and the issues that might present to the passing game), it might be difficult to approach the same rushing totals from the running back position.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Matt Austin WR 85 48 729 56.5% 8.6 21.3% 62.4% 8.6 97.6
Chuck Jacobs WR 60 41 608 68.3% 10.1 15.0% 61.7% 10.1 81.4
Kerwynn Williams RB 57 45 697 78.9% 12.2 14.3% 56.1% 12.4 93.4
Kellen Bartlett WR 50 38 272 76.0% 5.4 12.5% 72.0% 5.6 36.4
Cameron Webb WR 36 25 273 69.4% 7.6 9.0% 41.7% 7.3 36.6
Travis Reynolds WR-Z 5'11, 180 Sr. ** (5.2) 33 25 244 75.8% 7.4 8.3% 57.6% 7.3 32.7
Bruce Natson WR-T 5'7, 151 So. ** (5.4) 20 17 132 85.0% 6.6 5.0% 70.0% 6.7 17.7
Travis Van Leeuwen WR-X 6'3, 195 Sr ** (5.2) 17 12 143 70.6% 8.4 4.3% 70.6% 8.2 19.2
Joe Hill RB 5'11, 185 Jr. ** (5.2) 13 9 181 69.2% 13.9 3.3% 53.8% 14.0 24.2
D.J. Tialavea TE 6'4, 266 Sr. ** (4.9) 9 6 31 66.7% 3.4 2.3% 77.8% 3.3 4.2
Robert Marshall RB 6'0, 223 Sr. ** (5.4) 5 4 34 80.0% 6.8 1.3% 60.0% 6.8 4.6
Brandon Swindall WR-Z 6'4, 194 So. *** (5.5) 3 3 19 100.0% 6.3 0.8% 33.3% 5.0 2.5
Jordan Jenkins WR-T 5'10, 199 Jr. NR








Ronald Butler WR 6'0, 190 Jr. ** (5.4)








Ryan Watson WR 6'0, 180 Jr. ** (5.4)








Tyler Fox WR 5'11, 160 Fr. ** (5.4)








5. Orientation

Meet your new receiving corps, Chuckie Keeton. Keeton's top three targets from 2012 combined to average an explosive 10.1 yards per target last season, but all three are gone, as are No. 4 and No. 5. The top three returnees combined for just 7.4 yards per target, albeit while combining for about five targets per game in complementary roles. Between the lost players and the three new junior college transfers coming in, Keeton is tasked with building a rapport from scratch with his receivers.

Maybe that will work out just fine, but that's pretty scary, especially considering he won't be able to lean on Williams (who, as you'll notice, was also pretty incredible in the pass-catching department).

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 95.6 2.81 3.18 41.7% 53.7% 20.0% 170.6 3.7% 2.6%
Rank 87 87 64 34 117 82 19 42 13
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Tyler Larsen C 6'4, 312 Sr. ** (4.9) 38 career starts; 2012 1st All-WAC
Eric Schultz RT 6'4, 308 Sr. NR 32 career starts; 2012 1st All-WAC
Jamie Markosian LG 6'2, 302 Sr. NR 15 career starts; 2012 2nd All-WAC
Oscar Molina-Sanchez LT 27 career starts
Kyle Whimpey RG 6'6, 310 Sr. NR 13 career starts
Kevin Whimpey LT 6'5, 300 Jr. NR 12 career starts
Jorden Mattinson RT
Bryce Walker LG 6'8, 310 Jr. ** (5.4)
Joe Summers C 6'2, 307 Jr. NR
Logan Molohifo'ou LT 6'6, 310 So. NR
Taani Fisilau LG 6'2, 296 So. *** (5.6)
Sini Tauauve'a RG 6'2, 331 Sr. NR
Jake Simonich RT 6'5, 278 RSFr. ** (5.4)
Andrew Chen OL 6'3, 260 Fr. ** (5.4)
Brandon Taukeiaho OL 6'4, 340 Fr. ** (5.2)

6. More help from the line

Utah State's line held up well against blitzes and created a decent amount of opportunities for Williams overall. But it struggled mightily in short-yardage situations, allowed linemen into the backfield at a pretty high rate in the run game, and, generally speaking, regressed considerably from 2011. That the Aggies claimed three spots on the first- and second-team all-WAC list tells you a lot about the WAC, I guess.

This time around, all five starters return, so one should expect improvement to some degree. But while Gary Andersen proved he could win without a load of stud recruits, he could potentially use a little bit more star power on the line. Four of the five returning starters, and seven of the top 10 returnees overall, weren't even in the Rivals.com database. Experience will help, but the ceiling might not be very high here.

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 14 10 15 8
RUSHING 13 30 36 27
PASSING 31 6 5 7
Standard Downs 14 16 12
Passing Downs 11 18 9
Redzone 6 9 6
Q1 Rk 3 1st Down Rk 7
Q2 Rk 24 2nd Down Rk 33
Q3 Rk 48 3rd Down Rk 21
Q4 Rk 11

7. Can the defense hold on?

The USU run game was all-or-nothing, and the offense didn't really pick up the pace until midway through the season, but the defense was ridiculous from the start of the 2012 season. The Aggies showed hints of potential, improving from 102nd to 72nd in Def. F/+ in 2011, but they hadn't hinted at this. A solid run defense (led by an outstanding set of linebackers) combined with a ridiculous pass defense on a unit that really had no weaknesses. The Aggies were No. 3 in the country in the first quarter and No. 11 in the fourth; they were capable of putting you behind schedule without risking big plays.

And now they're in the hands of a completely different head coach and defensive coordinator. Quite a few of the stars return, but how much of the Aggies' success was due to talent, and how much was due to coaching?

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 96.2 2.94 3.25 36.8% 72.7% 18.6% 150.4 5.7% 10.6%
Rank 76 66 65 42 91 78 7 29 13
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jordan Nielsen DE 6'5, 260 So. NR 13 24.0 3.2% 6.5 5 0 1 0 0
Connor Williams DE 6'3, 278 Sr. NR 13 23.5 3.1% 7 6 0 0 1 0
Al Lapuaho DE 13 23.5 3.1% 4 3 0 1 1 0
A.J. Pataiali'i NG 6'3, 307 Sr. NR 13 15.0 2.0% 2.5 1 0 1 0 1
B.J. Larsen DE 6'5, 271 Jr. NR 13 14.0 1.8% 5 4 1 1 0 0
Paul Piukala DE 6'5, 275 Sr. *** (5.5) 11 8.0 1.1% 1 0 0 1 0 0
Havea Lasike NG 13 7.5 1.0% 1.5 1 0 0 0 0
Travis Seefeldt NG 6'2, 310 So. ** (5.4) 13 6.0 0.8% 0 0 0 0 0 1
Elvis Kamana-Matagi NG 6'2, 298 Jr. ** (5.2) 12 1.0 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ricky Ali'ifua NG 6'3, 275 Fr. ** (5.2)







8. Aggression looks good on you

Like the offensive line, the defensive front had little in the way of recruiting prowess. But while that showed a bit in terms of run support -- opponents were able to convert on short-yardage situations pretty easily, and the Aggies did not make that many plays in the backfield against the run -- the Aggie line more than did its job in the pass rush department. Four different linemen had at least three sacks, and five non-linemen had at least two. Due in part to the pressure the line was able to generate, USU was able to blitz and attack from anywhere, confusing offenses and forcing a ton of mistakes.

This year, of the eight players with at least two sacks last year, six return, including a dynamic trio of ends in Jordan Nielsen, Connor Williams, and B.J. Larsen. We'll see if the Aggies can do anything to shore up the run defense, but the pass rush should be as good as ever. And if there's one thing Todd Orlando proved at FIU, it's that he will be quite aggressive if he gets the opportunity.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jake Doughty ILB 6'0, 230 Sr. NR 13 72.5 9.6% 3.5 1 1 4 0 1
Zach Vigil ILB 6'2, 231 Jr. NR 13 69.5 9.2% 9.5 5.5 0 1 1 0
Kyler Fackrell OLB 6'5, 245 So. NR 13 57.5 7.6% 8 3 3 3 1 1
Bojay Filimoeatu OLB 13 49.5 6.5% 9 5 1 2 1 0
Tavaris McMillian ILB 6'2, 235 Jr. ** (5.2) 13 29.0 3.8% 5 2 0 2 0 0
Cade Cowdin ILB 12 20.0 2.6% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Michael Okonkwo OLB 6'1, 219 So. NR 11 4.0 0.5% 1 1 0 0 0 0
Terrell Thompson OLB 6'1, 220 Sr. ** (5.2) 8 3.5 0.5% 0.5 0.5 0 1 0 0
La'Bradford Harold ILB 5'11, 225 So. *** (5.5) 8 2.0 0.3% 1 0 1 0 0 0
Forrest Dabb LB 10 0.5 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Nick Vigil ILB 6'2, 230 RSFr. ** (5.4)

Travis Parrish OLB 6'3, 225 RSFr. ** (5.2)

Keylon Hollis LB 6'2, 235 Jr. ** (5.2)






Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
McKade Brady FS 12 66.0 8.7% 2 0 0 4 1 0
Nevin Lawson CB 5'10, 186 Sr. ** (5.4) 13 55.0 7.3% 4 2 0 10 0 1
Will Davis CB 13 55.0 7.3% 4.5 0 5 17 0 0
Brian Suite SS 6'3, 205 Jr. ** (5.2) 13 51.5 6.8% 0 0 1 6 0 0
Frankie Sutera FS 6'1, 201 Jr. NR 13 51.0 6.7% 1 1 0 1 0 0
Maurice Alexander (2011) FS 6'2, 212 Sr. ** (5.4) 12 36.0 4.7% 7 3 0 1 0 0
Terrence Alston CB 13 23.0 3.0% 2 1 1 8 0 0
Devonta Glover-Wright CB 6'0, 170 Sr. *** (5.5) 13 13.0 1.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Cameron Sanders SS 5'11, 190 Sr. ** (4.9) 9 9.0 1.2% 0 0 0 1 0 1
Rashard Stewart CB 5'11, 185 Jr. ** (5.2) 12 7.0 0.9% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Quinton Byrd NB 5'10, 181 Sr. NR 3 2.5 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ladale Jackson NB 5'11, 175 RSFr. *** (5.5)

Marquan Ellison CB 5'11, 175 RSFr. ** (5.2)

Devin Centers FS 5'9, 180 RSFr. NR

Jeremy Morris CB 5'11, 185 Jr. *** (5.5)

Marwin Evans CB 6'1, 190 Jr. ** (5.4)

9. Hold the fort at cornerback

Despite the loss of Bojay Filimoeatu, USU linebackers should once again be quite strong, capable of cleaning up a lot of messes in run support and rushing the passer reasonably well. But the Aggies will have to adapt after losing two-thirds of their incredible unit of cornerbacks. Nevin Lawson does return -- and considering how much Orlando liked attacking with his corners at FIU, Lawson should have a hell of a stat line at the end of 2013 -- but USU must replace both Will Davis and Terrence Alston, who combined for 6.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions, and 25 passes defensed last year. Utah State used its deep stable of cornerbacks to great effect, often transitioning into a nickel defense on passing downs last season. But if Orlando wants to do the same, he'll have to count on some unproven newcomers, either or the JUCO or redshirt freshman variety.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Tyler Bennett 61 41.9 3 28 33 100.0%
Jaron Bentrude 6'1, 207 Jr. 2 29.0 1 0 0 0.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Jaron Bentrude 6'1, 207 Jr. 71 63.1 26 36.6%
Brock Warren 6'2, 176 RSFr. 6 64.2 1 16.7%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Nick Diaz 5'8, 193 Jr. 40-40 5-6 83.3% 5-7 71.4%
Josh Thompson 5'9, 191 Sr. 11-12 4-6 66.7% 0-0 0.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Chuck Jacobs KR 24 24.1 0
Devonta Glover-Wright KR 6 19.8 0
Travis Reynolds KR 5'11, 180 Sr. 4 17.2 0
Cameron Webb PR 26 8.8 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 38
Net Punting 36
Net Kickoffs 51
Touchback Pct 65
Field Goal Pct 68
Kick Returns Avg 67
Punt Returns Avg 39

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2013 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
29-Aug at Utah 52
7-Sep at Air Force 91
14-Sep Weber State NR
21-Sep at USC 17
27-Sep at San Jose State 72
4-Oct BYU 27
12-Oct Boise State 12
19-Oct at New Mexico 122
2-Nov Hawaii 100
9-Nov at UNLV 110
23-Nov Colorado State 117
30-Nov Wyoming 109
Five-Year F/+ Rk 79
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 111
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -1 / +9.9
TO Luck/Game -4.2
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 15 (7, 8)
Yds/Pt Margin** -7.5

10. Tests early, wins late

Sometimes a new coaching staff can craft a strong, unexpected identity with the talent it inherits, something that takes opponents a while to figure out. On the other hand, sometimes the new staff takes a while to figure out what it has. Whether Matt Wells leads the former or the latter could decide whether USU starts the season 5-2 or 2-5. The Aggies start the season with a rather cruel four road games in five contests (including trips to Utah, USC, and SJSU), then return home to face what should be strong BYU and Boise State squads. That's brutal. If the Aggies are struggling to get up to speed, then they could find themselves in a hole in mid-October.

Of course, they should then dig right out of that hole. Assuming chemistry hasn't suffered following the losses, Utah State should clean house in its last five games, likely reaching bowl eligibility in the process. And despite the impressive list of returnees, I think bowl eligibility is the correct place to set the bar, even if that seems pretty conservative. The lines aren't great, the receiving corps and secondary got thinned out, one of the most explosive running backs in the country is gone, and the margin for error for players like Chuckie Keeton and the strong defensive ends has disappeared. This will still be a solid team, but the schedule is front-loaded, and there are enough changes on the staff to wonder about a temporary step backwards. I hope I'm proven wrong -- I loved watching this team last season (except against BYU, anyway), and I hope to see a similar squad this fall -- but while I freely admit that I really don't know what to expect here, I'm tamping down my expectations a bit, just in case.

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