Logan • The Utah State Aggies surprised many in the Mountain West Conference — and even the country — with their stellar play last season. An 11-2 conference record. A resounding victory in the New Mexico Bowl. A finish at No. 22 in the Associated Press poll.
But in 2019, all eyes are on the Aggies. Jordan Love returned to play quarterback for USU, which is already campaigning for him to win the Heisman Trophy. The Aggies are also projected to finished second in their division behind Boise State.
So as fall camp officially opens Thursday, the Aggies have their eyes set on meeting and even exceeding those expectations.
“Ultimately, win a Mountain West championship,” senior defensive end Tipa Galeai said when asked what the team’s goals were for the upcoming season. “That’s the main goal. … I’m excited with this group of guys that we have. I have no shadow of a doubt that we’ll do it this year.”
That USU group, however, consists of only nine returning starters and a new coach in Gary Andersen, who made his return to Utah State after six years of coaching elsewhere. With him comes an almost entirely new coaching staff, a smorgasbord of recruits and a mission to make the Aggies into a perennial winner.
Galeai and Love are among those returning starters. Joining them are senior running back Gerold Bright and junior linebacker David Woodard. All of them will play important parts in the success of USU this season, but it’s no secret that the bottom line for the Aggies hinges on how much better Love can be.
Love, who is the preseason pick for MWC’s offensive player of the year, had a breakout 2018. He amassed more than 3,500 passing yards and threw for 32 touchdowns. He’s already considered a top prospect for the 2020 NFL draft, and Andersen said agents are contacting him every day.
Love said he enjoys all the attention being paid toward him, but his course of action is to leave it in the background.
“At the end of the day, the way I look at it is it’s all fun stuff and it’s all on the side,” Love said. “It’s good to look at and good to see, but at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter unless you do what you need to do with the team.”
Andersen said the majority of his players are healthy entering fall camp. And with so many new faces and so few returning starters, this preseason will be competitive, Andersen said.
“There’s a lot of kids on this football team that want to strap that starter tag next to their name and are excited to compete,” Andersen said. “So that’ll be fun to watch.”
Andersen has already slated some starters on his depth chart — Love, Bright, Woodward, Galeai and defensive end Justus Te’i are some of those names. Generally speaking, however, it appears that the majority of the spots on both sides of the ball are wide open. Wide receiver, many of the linebacker positions, and practically the entire defensive backfield are areas Andersen mentioned that needed ironing out.
There will be at least some continuity for the Aggies compared to last season. Several players said the team’s offensive system will be largely similar to the one it employed in 2018. That’s good news considering how many categories in the MWC that USU led with its high-octane offense. Utah State led the nation in scoring drives under one minute (29), was second in the nation in scoring (47.5 points per game) and third in average margin of victory (25.3 points).
Woodward said about half of the defensive scheme will change this season. He added he has experienced new coaches and defenses “pretty much every year,” so he’s familiar with changes in philosophy. But 2019 will be different in that regard.
“This year is going to be one where we kind of get to keep some of the stuff that we did last year,” Woodward said.
The fall camp is the final opportunity for the Aggies to solve some of the mysteries facing them before the games start to matter. By all indications, they’re ready to go.
“This is a team that’s expected to come in and play well,” Andersen said. “They expect that. They understand their deficiencies and they expect that they’ve made strides on those deficiencies. We’ve gone through summer and we’ve gone through winter and we’ve gone through spring ball. So we’ll see how we’ve done in those areas when we go through camp.”