Logan • After every practice in fall camp, and after every scrimmage leading to the opener at Michigan State, the Utah State Aggies have broken the huddle with the same mantra: “1-2-3, Mountain West Champs!”
With seemingly indomitable Boise State in the league, and Fresno State and San Diego State coming off 10-win seasons, dreams of a title seem far-fetched, especially with Utah State needing a late season rally to become bowl eligible last season with six wins.
At the same time, the hope and promise for more out of the 2018 season isn’t without merit. When Utah State coach Matt Wells decided to hand the quarterback reins to redshirt freshman Jordan Love, the Aggies won three of their final four regular season games. Now, as a sophomore, Love is the incumbent, has taken command of Utah State’s offense and is more comfortable in the lead spot than at any other time last season.
“We have a lot of talent and a lot of weapons,” Love said. “We want to set our goals high this season. But we have to play well and take things slow to get to where we want to be.”
The Aggie fan base hopes 2018 can play out a little like 2012, when a talented sophomore quarterback named Chuckie Keeton took Utah State to a Western Athletic Conference title, a bowl win and a top-20 national ranking.
And, yet, for as bullish as Wells is on Love, he stresses that his starting quarterback won’t have to carry the load by himself, with a bunch of playmakers on the perimeter and an offensive line that returns five starters.
Ron’quavion Tarver and Dax Raymond are both all-MWC candidates and will be counted on for significant production this season. LaJuan Hunt and his big-play ability at running back are gone, but Gerold Bright moved to running back late last season from slot receiver and made an impact.
“There are plenty of guys around Jordan who can help,” Wells sad. “He just has to do his job and spread the ball around. There are a lot of guys who can make plays.”
The question is will the Aggies be able to stop people?
Defensively, there is talent, for sure. But, it’s young talent in the form of freshmen and sophomores. And, there are a few massive losses. Cornerback Jalen Davis was one of the best defensive backs in the country last season. His ability and versatility to lock down a side of the field in press coverage leaves a significant hole this season. He was a playmaker and a leader. Either Ja’Marcus Ingram, or Cameron Haney will have big shoes to fill.
Utah State will also have to replace hard-hitting safety Dallin Leavitt, who served as another emotional leader. At the same time, the Aggies return six of their top defensive backs and most of their linebacking corps for new co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson and incumbent coordinator Frank Maile.
“If we can move the ball and stop the run and keep turnovers to a minimum,” Wells said. “If we can do those things and not beat ourselves, I truly believe we have a chance to extend this season into November. We want to be in position to have our games in November matter.”
UTAH STATE’S 2018 SCHEDULE
All times Mountain
August 31 • at Michigan St., 5 p.m.: USU finds out early if it can hang with a P5 power.
Sept. 8 • New Mexico St., 6 p.m.: Aggies vs. the Aggies in an Arizona Bowl rematch.
Sept. 13 • Tennessee Tech, 6 p.m.: A breather after two tough games to open year.
Sept. 22 • Air Force, TBA: USU seems to always have issues with the Falcons.
Oct. 5 • at BYU, 7 p.m.: USU owns the Wagon Wheel. Can it hang on to it?
Oct. 13 • UNLV, 2 p.m.: One of the games USU really needs to win.
Oct. 20 • at Wyoming, 12:30 p.m.: No Josh Allen to deal with this year for Utah State.
Oct. 27 • New Mexico, 2 p.m.: We should know who Aggies are by this point.
Nov. 3 • at Hawai’i, 10 p.m.: Always nice to have this trip in November.
Nov. 10 • San Jose St., 2 p.m.: Spartans are MWC’s doormat; a win is advisable.
Nov. 17 • at Colorado St., 12 p.m.: First of two killer road games to end the season.
Nov. 24 • at Boise St., TBA: USU would love for this to be biggest game in years.
SUMMING THINGS UP
The Aggies will succeed if ... Quarterback Jordan Love meshes with an offense returning many key parts. With the talent the Aggies return, Utah State expects to be explosive and score a lot of points. Doing so, plus stopping people defensively and limiting turnovers have been talking points during preseason camp.
The Aggies won’t succeed if ... Love doesn’t progress from last season, a running back group doesn’t take pressure off the passing game and an offensive line that returns five starters can’t keep Love on his feet.
The bottom is ... Coach Matt Wells believes this could be his most talented team overall. He threw Love into the fire last season to have him able to hit the ground running this season. The Mountain West is a tough proposition, but the Aggies are dreaming of their first title since 2012, when Chuckie Keeton was a sophomore star, Gary Andersen was coach and Utah State was in the WAC.
UTAH STATE’S TWO-DEEP
LT - Alfred Edwards, Fr., 6-7, 310; Wade Meacham, Fr., 6-5, 300
LG - Roman Andrus, Sr., 6-4, 300; Jake Templeton, Sr., 6-2, 305
C - Quin Ficklin, Sr., 6-2, 300; Demytrick Ali’fua, So., 6-3, 310
RG - Rob Castaneda, Sr., 6-4, 305; Wyatt Bowles, Fr., 6-4, 280
RT - Sean Taylor, Sr., 6-5, 300; KJ Uluave, Sr., 6-4, 300
WR - Ron’quavion Tarver, Sr., 6-3, 215; Devin Heckstall, Jr., 6-5, 205
WR - Jordan Nathan, So., 5-8, 180 OR DJ Nelson, Sr., 5-9, 200
WR - Jalen Greene, Sr., 6-2, 205; Savon Scarver, So., 5-11, 185
TE - Dax Raymond, Jr., 6-5, 250; Carson Terrell, So., 6-4, 245
RB - Gerald Bright, Jr., 5-9, 195 OR Darwin Thompson, Jr., 5-8, 200
QB - Jordan Love, So., 6-4, 225; Henry Colombi, Fr., 6-3, 205
DE - Devon Anderson, Jr., 6-1, 280; Jacoby Wildman, Jr., 6-2, 265
NG - Chris Unga, Jr., 6-0, 295; Gasetoto Schuster, Sr., 6-0, 295
DE - Fua Leilua, Jr., 6-2, 285; Adewale Adeoye, Sr., 6-3, 275
OLB - Tipa Galeai, Jr., 6-5, 230; Logan Lee, So., 6-3, 270
ILB - David Woodward, So., 6-2, 235; Justus Te’i, Jr., 6-3, 235
ILB - Chase Christiansen, Sr., 6-1, 230; Mason Tobeck, Jr., 6-2, 235
OLB - Jontrell Rocquemore, Sr., 6-1, 210; Baron Gajkowski, So., 6-1, 205
CB - DJ Williams, Jr., 5-9, 180; Cameron Haney, Jr., 5-11, 180
S - Shaq Bond, So., 5-10, 185; Braxton Gunther, So., 5-10, 185
S - Gaje Ferguson, Sr., 6-0, 210; Aaron Wade, Sr., 6-1, 210
CB - Ja’Marcus Ingram, So., 6-1, 195; Deante Fortenberry, Sr., 5-9, 190
P - Aaron Dalton, Sr., 6-4, 220; Taylor Hintze, Jr., 6-1, 200
PK/K - Dominik Eberle, Jr., 6-2, 195; Taylor Hintze, Jr., 6-1, 200
LS - Brandon Pada, So., 5-10, 205; Chance Nelson, Jr., 6-3, 220
HLD - DJ Nelson, Sr., 5-9, 200; Aaron Dalton, Sr., 6-4, 220
PR - Jordan Nathan, So., 5-8, 180; Aaren Vaughns, Sr., 5-7, 185
KOR - Savon Scarver, So., 5-11, 185; Gerald Bright, Jr., 5-9, 195