LOGAN – With fall camp just days away and a newly-renovated Maverik Stadium nearing completion, the Utah State football team is ready for a fresh start.
After beating the league’s usual top-dog Boise State handily in Logan last season, USU was 3-0 in conference play and expectations were high. Few predicted anything less than a spot in the Mountain West Conference championship game.
But then things took a turn for the worse.
The Aggies lost four of their final six regular season games before a disappointing 23-21 loss in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Akron, finishing with a 6-7 record.
A season like that could have thrilled Aggie fans in 2010 – or in any of the 20 years before then – but expectations are different now. Before Gary Andersen’s 2011 season, the previous 13 ended with a losing record. Every season since has been different and has at least included a bowl game.
“Six wins at Utah State, a lot of decades and a lot of years that would have been a big deal,” head coach Matt Wells told KVNU’s Al Lewis. “When you compare it to nine, 10, 11 wins – and two of those years, 2012 and 2014, are the very best years in the 120-plus years of Aggie football – that is just a good year.”
Wells said there is “a fine, fine line” between a good year and a great year. He pointed out that if his team could have won at least one of the games to either Air Force or New Mexico – both close losses – USU would have hosted the conference championship. This year he wants to find “that extra little bit” to pick up a couple of extra wins and make this season something special.
“We did that in 2014,” he said. “We had that mojo and that swag down the stretch in October and November. That’s an awesome thing in football, and it goes a long way.”
Last years performance, along with the loss of key players like Nick Vigil and Kyler Fackrell to the NFL, have the Aggies picked to finish third in the Mountain Division. For guys like center Austin Stevens, those expectations are only motivation.
“For us, I think we feed off of it more that anything,” he said. “We enjoy that. That’s fun to us and that’s a challenge we’ll accept any day of the week.”
Defensive end Ricky Ali’ifua agreed, and said he was unhappy with the finish.
“The players and leaders on this team really showed up in January,” he said. “Those leaders have been developing this whole time, and it’s going to pay off for us, for sure. We’ve been putting in the work and our coaches have been just as committed as us.”
If the Aggies are to make it a special season, it will have to be done against quality competition. After an opening game against Weber State, the Aggies will travel to USC to take on a highly-touted Trojan team. Then it’s a home game against Arkansas State.
“(Arkansas State) is a tremendous program,” Wells said. “They beat us in overtime two years ago.”
After that, conference play begins. The Aggies will play every team from the Mountain Division – which includes Boise State and Air Force – and will also play Fresno State, Nevada and San Diego State from the West Division.
“We play the best that the West, preseason-wise, has to offer,” Wells said. “San Diego State, the returning champ, comes to Logan Halloween weekend.”
The Aggies will conclude their schedule against rival BYU in Provo.
USU’s media day will take place Thursday. Fall camp starts Friday.