Logan • A decade ago, Gary Andersen walked into Utah State University with a new job: coaching the Aggies football team. After a difficult first two seasons, he went 18-8 in his final two — including an 11-2 record, a No. 16 ranking in the Associated Press’ top 25, and a Famous Idaho Potato Bowl victory in 2012.
Now it’s 2019 and Andersen is back, facing an entirely different challenge than the one posed to him a decade ago. This time, he already has the 11-2 team. He already has a team that finished among the Top 25 in the Associated Press poll. His job is sustaining excellence rather than building it.
So with Andersen at the helm again, and some of the most impactful players returning for another season, the question becomes: Can they do it again?
“Personally, I want to win a Mountain West [Conference] championship,” senior running back Gerold Bright said. “That’s my No. 1 goal. That’s pretty much my only goal.”
Bright’s sentiment is shared by many of the Aggies. And after practically coming out of nowhere and rolling through the MWC last season — USU won 10 straight games at one point — who can blame them?
The biggest key to Utah State’s success in 2019 could be the returns of Bright, star junior quarterback Jordan Love, senior defensive end Tipa Galeai and junior linebacker David Woodward. Love was the catalyst for USU’s high-octane offense last season, throwing for more than 3,500 passing yards and 32 touchdowns.
All times Mountain
Aug. 30 at Wake Forest, 6 p.m.
This is the return leg of a two-game series that began with a USU victory over the Demon Deacons in Logan in 2015.
Sept. 7 vs. Stony Brook, 5:30 p.m.
Gary Andersen’s official return to Maverik Stadium as Utah State’s coach.
Sept. 21 at San Diego State, 8:30 p.m.
Aggies open MWC play on the road against a team picked to finish second in the West Division in 2019.
Sept. 28 vs. Colorado State, 5:30 p.m.
The Aggies edged the Rams in a snowfest at Fort Collins last season.
Oct. 5 at LSU, TBA
The Tigers finished sixth in the final AP poll last season. They’re picked to finish second in the SEC West this season, behind Alabama.
Oct. 19 vs. Nevada, TBA
The Aggies and Wolf Pack did not face each other last year in conference play.
Oct. 26 at Air Force, TBA
Jordan Love threw for 356 yards and two touchdowns in last year’s win over Air Force.
Nov. 2 vs. BYU, TBA
The Aggies have owned the Old Wagon Wheel for two years now after last season’s victory in Provo.
Nov. 9 at Fresno State, 5 p.m.
Jeff Tedford has rebuild the Bulldogs into a MWC power. They finished 12-2 last season, winning the West Division.
Nov. 16 vs. Wyoming, TBA
Senior tight end Josh Harshman is coming back from a surgically repaired MCL suffered early last season.
Nov. 23 vs. Boise State, 8:30 p.m.
Last year’s game in Boise was huge. This one could be, too.
Nov. 30 at New Mexico, 2 p.m.
The Lobos could be playing out the string with the embattled Bob Davie, but USU is only 5-9 against New Mexico on the road all-time.
Despite being just a sophomore last season, Love managed to become one of the leaders of not only the offense but the whole team. The Aggies, however, did have several upperclassmen who also carried the load, such as wide receivers Ron’quavion Tarver, Aaren Vaughns and Jalen Greene, as well as linebacker Chase Christiansen.
Love enters 2019 as a player USU is already campaigning for to win the Heisman Trophy, and as one of the more experienced players on a roster that suddenly skews on the younger side.
“It’s definitely a little different,” Love said. “They’re all looking at me. As of last year, they were probably still looking at me, but I had dudes that have been playing and knew what they were doing.”
Bright is the other portion of the Utah State offense returning this season, and is currently considered the starting running back. He tallied 888 rushing yards last year with 10 touchdowns in 2018, sharing the load with Darwin Thompson, who was drafted in the sixth round by the Kansas City Chiefs.
The biggest hurdle for the Aggies in 2019 could be replacing the production at the wide receiver position. Tarver, Greene and Vaughns racked up 1,979 receiving yards last year.
In addition, three of USU’s top defenders are gone in Christiansen, Gaje Ferguson and Jontrell Rocquemore. Woodward and senior Tipa Galeai will be expected to fill those roles.
With not many returning starters from last year, a host of younger players will be fighting for positions as the start of the season inches closer. Galeai said one the biggest hurdles this season will be getting the new players up to speed and that the veterans will have to make a concerted effort to do so.
“It’ll take a lot for the leaders this year just to really get these young guys going,” he said. “But we’re willing to accept that challenge and just grow this team.”
QB • Jordan Love, Jr., 6-4, 220; Henry Colombi, Soph., 6-2, 200.
RB • Gerold Bright, Sr., 5-10, 190; Jaylen Warren, Jr., 5-8, 215.
WR • Jordan Nathan, Jr., 5-9, 180; Taylor Compton, Jr., 5-8, 175.
WR • Savon Scarver, Jr., 5-11, 180; Ajani Carter, Fr., 6-0, 185.
WR • Siaosi Mariner, Grad., 6-2, 190, Derek Wright, Jr., 6-1, 185.
TE • Caleb Repp, Grad., 6-5, 230; Carson Terrell, Jr., 6-5, 245.
RT • Andy Koch, RS Fr., 6-6, 275; Kyler Hackj, So., 6-4, 300.
LT • Alfred Edwards, So., 6-7, 310; Jacob South, RS Fr., 6-6, 295.
C • Demytrick Ali’ifua, Jr., 6-3, 315; Chandler Dolphin, So., 6-3, 300.
LG • Ty Shaw, Jr. 6-4, 300; Heneli Avendano, RS Fr., 6-3, 300.
RG • Karter Shaw, RS Fr., 6-4, 300; Mohelika Uasike, RS. Jr., 6-1, 305.
DE • Tipa Galeai, Sr., 6-5, 230; Dalton Baker, Sr., 6-5, 245.
DE • Justus Te’i, Jr., 6-3, 240; Jacoby Wildman, Grad., 6-3, 265.
DT • Devon Anderson, Sr., 6-2, 290; Hale Motu’apuaka, Fr., 6-2, 295.
DT • Fua Leilua, Sr. 6-3, 295; Christopher ‘Unga, Sr., 6-0, 295.
ILB • David Woodward, Jr., 6-2, 235; Elijah Shelton, Fr., 6-1, 230.
ILB • Kevin Meitzenheimer, Jr., 6-0, 230; Eric Munoz, Jr., 6-0, 230.
NKL • Andre Grayson, So., 5-8, 175; Jarrod Green, So., 5-11, 180.
CB • DJ Williams, Sr., 5-9, 180; Dominic Tatum, Fr., 6-2, 180.
CB • Cameron Haney, Sr., 5-10, 185; Zahodri Jackson, So., 5-10, 185.
S • Shaq Bond, Jr., 5-11, 190; Braxton Gunther, Jr., 5-10, 185.
S • Troy Lefeged, Jr., 5-11, 190; Cash Gilliam, Jr., 5-11, 200.
LS • Brandon Pada, Jr. 5-10, 210; Jesse Vasquez, Fr., 6-1, 225.
P • Aaron Dalton, Sr., 6-4, 210; Christopher Bartolic, Jr., 6-0, 195.
K • Dominik Eberle, Sr., 6-2, 195; Connor Coles, RS Soph., 6-0, 190.
KR • Savon Scarver, Jr., 5-11, 190; Deven Thompkins, So., 5-7, 160.
PR • Jordan Nathan, Jr. 5-8, 180; Deven Thompkins, So., 5-7, 160.
The Aggies will succeed if: They pick up where they left off last season. USU finished 11-2 overall and snagged a big bowl win over North Texas to end the season. Even with a new coach, new system and a lot of newcomers, it’s hard to envision a big dropoff from 2018, especially if the Jordan Love-led offense can get up to speed quickly.
The Aggies won’t succeed if: The learning curve proves too steep. USU brought 44 freshman into the football program this season, and several players said getting them and other young players up to speed is a top priority. Inexperience could lead to slippage.
Bottom line: With Love back at quarterback and what is expected to be a nasty defense, the Aggies should be in the mix again in the Mountain Division, and this time they get Boise State at home. A division title is not out of the question, though some things will have to line up for it to happen.