The motto for Utah State‘s football program in 2012 should be something along the lines of “Finish Strong.”
If there was one team that seemed to fall victim to snakebite more often than any other school last fall, it was Utah State. The Aggies started last season with a 1-3 record, with crushing late losses at Auburn and BYU and at home against Colorado State and ended with a bowl loss to Ohio in dramatic fashion in the first bowl game in program history since the 1997 Humanitarian Bowl. Utah State finished the season with seven wins, but was perhaps four minutes away from the first ten-win season in school history.
Playing their final season in the WAC before joining the Mountain West Conference in 2013, the Aggies hope that the painful lessons and experiences coming up short last season will pay off to a more successful season in 2012. Head coach Gary Anderson, entering his fourth season on the job, looks to continue developing what Utah State has done well, which is running the football, and hope the defense can be more dependable in the clutch.
Utah State’s sixth ranked running game averaged 282.69 yards per game last season and it should be more of the same in the fall despite some notable losses. Gone are dual-threat quarterback Diondre Borel and 1,500-yard rusher Robert Turbin. So is the team’s second-leading rusher, Michael Smith (870 rushing yards, nine touchdowns). That puts the running game in the hands of Kerwynn Williams or perhaps newcomer Tavarreon Dickerson. Sophomore quarterback Chuckie Keaton, who saw action last fall due to injury, on the other hand, will likely lead the passing game. As long as the offensive line maintains their stability, they allowed just 18 sacks for a loss of 92 yards last season, then Utah State’s offense will be on solid shape.
The defense was fairly average last season in all statistical categories, and things could be looking up this season. After a transition form a 4-3 to a 3-4 last year, it looks as though Utah State will stick with a 3-4 defense. The hope is that everybody understands their roles heading in to the summer and fall, rather than needing time to adjust. Anderson also hired a defensive coordinator (Dave Aranda) so he no longer has to focus on the schemes himself, and the secondary looks to be experienced with the returns of veteran players such as corner Nevin Lawson and safety McCade Brady. Utah State will have to refuel at inside linebacker and will hope that Tavaris McMillian can help fill the void in the middle of the defense.
2012 Utah State Schedule (via FBSchedules.com)
- August 30 – SOUTHERN UTAH
- September 7 – UTAH
- September 15 – @ Wisconsin
- September 22 – @ Colorado State
- September 29 – UNLV
- October 5 – @ BYU
- October 13 – @ San Jose State*
- October 20 – NEW MEXICO STATE*
- October 27 – @ UTSA*
- November 3 – TEXAS STATE*
- November 10 – Open Date
- November 17 – @ Louisiana Tech*
- November 24 – IDAHO*
* Denotes WAC game
Like the rest of the WAC, Utah State should feel comfortable about two conference games against conference members and first-year FBS programs Texas State and UTSA. Utah State gets those two opponents in back-to-back weeks toward the end of the schedule and leading in to the bye week before what could be a key game in the WAC at Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs and Aggies could be the favorites in the division this season, which means the November 17 game could be the deciding game for the conference’s automatic bid.
Utah State will have a significantly tougher start of the season with a home game against Utah followed by a road trip to Wisconsin, who looks to be a Big Ten favorite. A road game at BYU before getting in to conference play should also be circled as a bit of a statement game for the Aggies.
Sure, Utah State has some key players to replace, but this is a program that is taking steps forward, rather than back. This season is all about taking that next step, which will include finding a way to hold on to leads late in games, where last year those close games always seemed to find a way to slip through the fingers.
Utah State should be looking for their second consecutive bowl trip this season, which would mark the first back-to-back bowl seasons since 1960 and 1961.
Kevin is a national college football writer for ovalpike.com and the host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast. Submit your mailbag questions via Tumblr. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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