Once an afterthought in the WAC, Sun Belt and Big West, Utah State has become one of the more consistent programs in a Mountain West that’s still trying to find its way. True, the Aggies’ 2015 was uneven due in part to injuries, but Utah State managed to reach a fifth consecutive bowl game, a feat that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. With the talented Kent Myers taking over the quarterback position full-time, Utah State should make its sixth consecutive postseason trip.
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Previewing Utah State’s Offense for 2016
The Chuckie Keeton era is officially over, but the Aggies still return plenty of experience on this side of the ball. Three offensive linemen who garnered all-league honors last season are back in Austin Albrecht, Austin Stephens and Jake Simonich. That group will be called on to set the tone for the offense.
“We have guys that have played multiple years, especially on the offensive line,” coach Matt Wells says. “We are looking for them to provide leadership, as well as others.”
It’s no secret the Aggies want to establish the run in 2016. A good part of spring scrimmages showcased the running game, led by Devante Mays, LaJuan Hunt, Tonny Lindsey and Justen Hervey. Mays emerged as a powerful weapon as the 2015 season progressed. Wells believes his big back should easily top 1,000 yards this fall, if he stays healthy.
“I want a 1,000-yard back,” Wells says. “I want to be able to say we are going to be a run-first football team. I want that mentality.”
Wells, who was the offensive coordinator before taking over as head coach three seasons ago, will call the plays this fall.
Kent Myers eventually took over at quarterback for USU when Keeton was injured in 2015. The junior signal caller has plenty of experience running the offense, having also played significant snaps in 2014.
The biggest question is at receiver. Tight ends Wyatt Houston and Dax Raymond are back, as are receivers Andrew Rodriguez and Braelon Roberts. Finding a deep threat is a priority. Running back Kennedy Williams has moved to receiver, and a number of newcomers will get a shot.
Previewing Utah State’s Defense for 2016
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Led by one of the best linebacker corps around, the Aggies have been solid on this side of the ball for several years. Graduation and an early entry to the NFL Draft — Nick Vigil — have left a big hole in the heart of the defense.
“When you lose four guys to the NFL — we will never replace them,” Wells says of his four departed starters at linebacker. “I do believe we have guys in the program and coming in that are good players that need to mature and develop quickly for us to have an elite defense.”
Nose guard Travis Seefeldt returns after a life-threatening automobile accident just before the season started a year ago. He will provide leadership along with end Ricky Ali’ifua.
There is also experience returning in the secondary with cornerbacks Jalen Davis and Daniel Gray, along with safeties Devin Centers and Jontrell Rocquemore. Dallin Leavitt was a two-year starter at BYU before transferring to USU and will figure into the mix. “We will rely on our back end and our D-linemen to make plays,” Wells says.
Previewing Utah State’s Specialists for 2016
As a freshman, punter Aaron Dalton got better as the season progressed. He has continued to improve and will be an important weapon. Three placekickers — Jake Thompson, Brock Warren and Dominik Eberle — are vying for time. Rodriguez is the top returning punt returner in the Mountain West. Holder DJ Nelson is also back.
A year ago was a roller coaster ride. The Aggies dominated then-No. 21 Boise State and took control of their destiny in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West. However, close road losses at New Mexico and Air Force derailed chances of returning to the league’s championship game for the first time since 2013. Still, the Aggies rallied to become bowl eligible and made their fifth straight postseason appearance. The defense suffered a blow with Vigil leaving, and once again Wells had to deal with losing coordinators and assistants to better-paying jobs. USU has six new coaches. This team will have to rely a lot on offense this season. The Aggies should still win seven games and make it six straight bowl games.