Frisco Bowl loss cements Utah State’s football season as ‘good,’ but not ‘great’

(Brandon Wade | AP) Utah State coach Gary Anderson watches from the sideline during the second half of the team's Frisco Bowl NCAA college football game against Kent State on Friday, Dec. 20, 2019, in Frisco, Texas. Kent State won 51-41.

Frisco, Texas • Gary Andersen all but scoffed when asked this past week if winning a bowl game defines the entire season for a college football team. Yes, he said, getting a victory would mean a trophy and a championship to end a year — every team strives for that.

But does that one game make or break the dozen or so a team plays throughout a season? No, he said unequivocally.

Friday’s 51-41 loss to Kent State at the Frisco Bowl, however, may have actually defined 2019 for the Utah State Aggies. The reason: It robbed them of an eighth overall win for the season.

“Six and seven is good, eight and nine is great, double digits is elite,” Andersen said of win totals last week. “I’ll believe that forever and ever. … To get an eighth win, that championship trophy is going to be here forever if you get it.”

So by Andersen’s logic, finishing the season 7-6 makes the Aggies a good team, but not a great team. By comparison, Utah State went 11-2 just a season ago under Matt Wells and won its bowl game against North Texas.

But some of the younger players are optimistic about the direction of the football program. Sophomore wide receiver Deven Thompkins said having Andersen at the helm has helped in that regard.

“We’re a lot more mentally stronger than we were last year,” Thompkins said. “We know that we have to battle through a lot of adversity. I think that’s going to help us come together and bond as a unit like [Andersen] always talks about. He always talks about us bonding and coming together as a team — being more than just a team, being a family. And I think that’s something we have to work on in the offseason.”

Junior safety Troy Lefeged said believing in the “Mountain West Champs” motto the team says after every practice can start with the younger players on the team. He added that it’s important for everyone on the team to have that mentality in 2020.

“Next year, we’re going to come back harder,” Lefeged said, “especially with this man next to me.” Andersen sat next to Lefeged during the postgame press conference.

Utah State’s immediate future could be murky, though. The Aggies are losing several impact players either to graduation or trying to make it to the next level. Quarterback Jordan Love and linebacker David Woodward are declaring for the NFL Draft, top running back Gerold Bright is graduating, and several of the team’s starting defensive players are also graduating.

USU already got some positions of need during the early signing period, but it remains to be seen how it will replace other key spots on the field.

Andersen said that while there are “a whole bunch of new kids” in the football program, they will need to make a leap next season.

“They have to understand that it will get much more difficult as we more ourselves into Year 2 because it needs to,” Andersen said. “We need to gain some physicality, we need to gain a bunch of strength. We’re a tough team. You don’t do what we did and win as many close ballgames as we did without being a tough team. But there’s places where the youth needs to step up and grow.”

Thompkins said there were positive moments in the 2019 season, particularly winning as many close games as the Aggies did. But both he and Lefeged said the team needs to find a way to win more tight games.

“We’ve been in dog fights all year,” Lefeged said. “Even getting blown out, we’re still fighting at the end of the game. I feel like we need to start like that and keep going like that. I feel like our future looks good if we do that.”

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