GAME DAY: Utah State opens 2012 football season with home game against Southern Utah

<strong>LOGAN—</strong>The wait is over. The 2012 football season is upon us.

Thursday night the Utah State Aggies open their football season at home for the first time under current Aggie head coach Gary Andersen – now in his fourth year – and will be playing an in-state game as Southern Utah comes to town.

The Aggies are coming off of their most successful season since the late 90s, and there is a lot of excitement and buzz around the program. USU was selected by the coaches and the media to finish second in the WAC, and expectations of an eight or nine win season are high.

“For us as a staff and a group of kids, it’s awesome to see the excitement that’s in the community, the excitement that’s in the valley overall, and the excitement for Aggies in general. It’s definitely been boosted up and we’re excited about it,” Andersen said. “It’s fun to see athletic events really truly matter. It’s great for our kids, it’s great for recruiting, I believe it’s great for the community. Hopefully the place is going crazy, which I’m sure that it will be Thursday night.”

The Thunderbirds are in their first year of membership in the FCS’s Big Sky Conference after moving up from the Great West Conference. SUU finished the 2011 with a 6-5 overall record, and returns 12 starters from that team – including preseason Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year and first-team All-American selection quarterback Brad Sorenson.

“Offensively, their quarterback is obviously a great player. He throws the ball really well and has a quick release. He doesn’t get in a lot of bad situations, (and makes) quick passes,” USU senior safety McKade Brady said.

Sorenson originally committed to in-state rival BYU out of high school, and spent the 2009 season as a redshirt there. Following that, he transferred to San Bernardino Valley College where he played one season before joining the Thunderbirds. As a sophomore in his first year at SUU, Sorensen threw for a school-record 3,163 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Last year for the T-Birds, Sorensen was named the Great West Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year, after throwing for 3,143 yards and 17 touchdowns. The senior quarterback will have plenty of targets to throw to against the Aggies – including former Utah Utes Griff McNabb and Fatu Moala.

SUU also returns two talented offensive linemen in Gavin Farr and Zach Brackus. Former Fullback Dylan Fox, who started the final game of the season at center for the Thunderbirds, will now man that position full time.

“They’re physical, they’re big tall kids. They’ve got quality lines, they do a nice job. I would say overall, they play extremely hard as a group,” Andersen said. “Any part of their film, you’re not going to throw it on and say you know, that’s a lazy team, that’s a team that doesn’t play hard, that’s a team that doesn’t care a lot … they compete hard all the time regardless of the score.”

On defense, the Thunderbirds are led up front by preseason All-American Cody Larsen who is the older brother of USU center Tyler Larsen. Junior linebacker Chad Hansen is also back for the T-Birds after leading SUU in tackling with 104 stops a season ago. Senior safety Brennan Fjord and junior safety Tommy Collet also return, providing experience on the back end of Southern Utah’s defense.

With former USU running backs Robert Turbin and Michael Smith now playing in the NFL, Andersen and the Aggies will most likely be testing that secondary early.

“We do want to throw the ball down the field more, we want to take some more shots than we did a year ago because of the players that we have,” Andersen said. “We want to highlight our athletes and give them an opportunity to make plays.”

The Aggies and Thunderbirds have met only twice in the history of the two programs, with both games being played recently. Utah State owns a 2-0 advantage in the series, with a 30-14 win in 2000, and a 53-34 victory in 2009. However, despite that record and SUU playing at a lower division, the Aggies know they can’t overlook a team that defeated UNLV, 41-16, last year in Las Vegas.

“They compete against everyone. They’re just as good as anyone else that we’ve played. They come out and they’re ready to play,” Tyler Larsen said. “Just talking to my brother, he’s more than ready, he’s very confident in their scheme that they have for us. We can’t let that lower division talk get to us, because really it doesn’t mean anything.”

Kickoff for Thursday’s game is set for 6:07 p.m., and can be heard live on 610 AM or 102.1 FM in Cache Valley, or streamed live on 610kvnu.com. The game will also be televised live on KMYU-TV, which is channel 12 on DirecTV and Dish Network, and is also available on Comcast.

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