Logan • After enduring a career-worst 3-9 finish last year, one might think Utah State coach Matt Wells would prefer talking about something other than 2016 and instead focus on the upcoming season.
In fact, Wells has been thinking about last season for the last eight months. He has digested it thoroughly, and found it doesn’t taste any better now than it did then.
Now, he’s ready to exorcise it — but not before learning some valuable lessons and making some major program changes along the way.
“Coming off last season, it was disappointing,” the fifth year USU coach said Thursday as the Aggies opened their preseason camp with media day. ”It stunk in terms of a won-loss record. That’s embarrassing for me in terms of the record — not the way our kids played, not the way the kids competed.
“When you have a season like that, it makes you go back and re-evaluate everything in your program,” he added. “Staff, philosophies, the way you train, the way you recruit, the way you develop leadership, how you practice.”
Utah State holds its first practice Friday. Two-a-days have now been eliminated by the NCAA, so Wells plans to up the practice tempo and put his players in more competitive situations.
Wells is hoping that all of the adjustments will mean more success in close games, where USU was decidedly in the negative last year. Four times, the Aggies lost games by a touchdown or less.
“We’ve just got to find out a way to win. We have to close out close games,” said senior running back Tonny Lindsey Jr., who led Utah State with 763 rushing yards a year ago. “We have to have that mindset that no one can beat us. When those tough games come, and there’s going to be tough games, you’ve just got to stay focused and limit the mistakes,” Lindsey said.
The Mountain Division of the Mountain West Conference has six teams, and every team — including Utah State and senior quarterback Kent Myers — brings back its signal caller.
Bouncing back to bowl game eligibility won’t be easy.
“I’ve gone back to ’13 and ’14 and I’ve studied it,” Wells said. “When you don’t go to a bowl game, you have a whole lot more time at home. We won close games those years and I’m not sure we were far ahead of some of those teams as some people think.”
No one is thinking that way anymore, at least not in preseason MWC polls. Utah State is tabbed for last in the Mountain Division by media members, although Wells pointed out that last year’s preseason pick for the cellar was Wyoming, which ended up winning the division.
But the prediction, like the 2016 season as a whole, will continue to dog the Aggies until things start to turn around.
“I got off the plane in Vegas and saw it [the prediction],” said Wells after leaving the Las Vegas meetings last week. “I see an email on it, I see a tweet or something, yeah you see it. I did not dwell on it at all.”