Inglewood, Calif. • Standing in a luxury suite in the club level of SoFi Stadium on Tuesday night, Utah State head coach Blake Anderson spoke favorably about the value of playing a Pac-12 opponent like Oregon State in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl, where scouts will be evaluating how his top NFL prospects stack up against a Power 5 opponent.
Anderson was then asked whether his players would have a chip on their shoulders come gameday Saturday, considering many are from the West Coast but were not recruited by Pac-12 schools.
He did not hesitate.
“Only a handful of these guys were probably recruited by the Pac-12,” Anderson said. “That just immediately puts a chip on anybody’s shoulder: ‘You didn’t think I was good enough coming out. I’m going to show you.’”
Perhaps after this season, Utah State won’t be just a fallback option to the Pac-12. Entering Saturday’s game, the Aggies are 10-3 and fresh off their first Mountain West title in program history, with Anderson engineering one of the best turnarounds this season in college football in his first year.
On early signing day Wednesday, Utah State announced 14 commitments, three of them four-year transfers and seven listed as three-star recruits by 247Sports.com. The early commits include six players from Utah and three from Texas. The defensive players include five linebackers, two defensive linemen and a defensive back. On offense, Utah State landed three offensive linemen, two quarterbacks and a running back.
A few, like offensive linemen Sione Motu’apuaka and Weylin Lapuaho and defensive end Paul Fitzgerald, chose Utah State over offers from Utah or BYU.
Utah State’s early recruiting strategy focused on building the fronts and players who were close to home, Anderson said in a news release Wednesday. For the rest of the recruiting process, Anderson said the priority will shift to “veteran-type bodies” who can replace the departing seniors.
The program’s success this season — capped off by a conference championship — led to “nothing but positive” reaction from prospective players, Anderson said earlier in the week. Players who had already committed were “super fired up,” and those on the offense may have been “pushed over the edge,” according to Anderson.
“Winning helps everybody and winning a championship takes it to another level,” Anderson said. “It doesn’t make the final decision for anybody, but it definitely moves people in a positive direction, and it shows people that we can be competitive and are going to be competitive every year.”
Utah State could add a few more players from the transfer portal or junior college over the holidays, according to Anderson. Seven of the 14 early commits will enroll in school in time for the upcoming spring semester.
Before that, the Aggies have a date in primetime in the LA Bowl, where Anderson hopes a win can continue building the budding excitement around the program.
“You can win a championship here,” Anderson said. “You don’t have to go somewhere else to get that done. We’re doing everything we can to really build the roster, and recruiting is where that gets done. The more momentum we have going into recruiting, the better off we are.”
USU’s early signing day additions
Max Alford, LB; Park City, Utah (Park City HS)
Teague Andersen, OL; Lehi, Utah (Lehi HS)
Robert Briggs, RB; Bellville, Texas (Bellville HS)
Bishop Davenport, QB; Spring, Texas (Spring HS)
Paul Fitzgerald, DE; Idaho Falls, Idaho (Thunder Ridge HS)
Lofa Fonoti-Maikui LB; Layton, Utah (Northridge HS)
Weylin Lapuaho, OL, South Jordan, Utah (Bingham HS)
Sione Motu’apuaka, OL; Honolulu, Hawaii (Radford HS)
Adam Tomczyk, DT; Los Alamitos, California (Los Alamitos HS)
Chase Tuatagaloa, QB; Orem, Utah (Orem HS)
Joshua Williams, LB; Mesquite, Texas (Mesquite HS)
Gurvan Hall Jr., S; senior transfer; West Palm Beach, Florida (Palm Beach Gardens HS/Miami)
Anthony Switzer, LB; junior transfer; Marion, Arkansas (Marion HS/Arkansas State)
MJ Tafisi, LB; junior transfer; West Jordan, Utah (Alta HS/Washington)