Logan » Brennan McFadden's been a part of the Utah State football program for five years.
In that time, the all-conference center never has been a part of a preseason that's harbored so many expectations. He's never experienced anything, in fact, other than dreary prognostications, predicting the Aggies for last place and branding them as one of the worst teams in the country.
Until now, that is.
"This is definitely the first year that people are looking at us and thinking that we can have a good year," McFadden said. "The coaching staff has a lot to do with that. They've come in here and put in so much energy that we've fed off it. Our confidence level is the highest that it's been in my career."
As Utah State's much awaited season opener with Utah is now merely a week away, magazines and publications around the country are hopping on the bandwagon with both feet. Sports Illustrated pegs the Aggies for a 6-6 record, and an invitation to the New Mexico Bowl. Phil Steele , one of the most respected insider magazines in the country, calls USU "The WAC's most improved team." The Sporting News and Athlon both sport similar commentary.
Yes, the wave of optimism, in large part, is due to new coach Gary Andersen, who has come in and shaken the entire program to its core with his recruiting and some of the changes in philosophy that he's made. But a lot of it is due to the group of players that former coach Brent Guy brought in.
In Diondre Borel, the Aggies have one of the better quarterbacks in the conference and a guy with proven game-changing ability. In Robert Turbin, USU has a star in the making at running back, and a player that the coaching staff believes eventually can play football on Sundays. McFadden is one of the top returning centers in the league, and the roster as a whole is more athletic and deep than it's been in years.
These players believe. They believe they can compete with the Utes, and maybe even beat them. They believe that they are good, and they believe they can make an impact on the WAC race once league play begins.
"I think the biggest change has been the confidence that we have in ourselves," sophomore receiver Stanley Morrison said. "And that's a good thing. If we don't have confidence in ourselves, who's going to have confidence in us?"
With that, maybe the biggest measure of respect given to the Aggies lies in the fact that the schedule is tougher than in most seasons, yet the optimism remains. And even if the schedule weren't there, the ghost of seasons failed looms large. Indeed, Utah State hasn't had a winning season since the Bill Clinton Administration (1996), and not extending that another year means navigating through a slate of games that features seven road games and at least five teams that harbor major bowl aspirations.
"We know the schedule is a little tough, but we can't worry about that," McFadden said. "All we're focusing on right now is Utah and preparing for them. We have a couple of tough teams in the schedule, but we feel that we can compete with anyone."
Sports Illustrated » 5th WAC; 88th nationally; 6-6 record; New Mexico Bowl invitation
Sporting News » 7th WAC; 5-7; up arrow; could "threaten to end seasonal losing streak, which dates back to 1996."
Lindy's » 9th WAC; "Should be better. ... Significantly improving record won't be easy."
Phil Steele » 6th WAC; "WAC's most improved team."
Athlon » 7th WAC; 101st nationally; "A .500 record in league play isn't out of the question."