In the lead-up to the upcoming college football season, Sports Unbiassed is taking a look at the top 20 teams with a chance to win the Access Bowl bid in 2015. You can find the full list of the Top 20, links to other team previews, and read more about the methodology behind the rankings here.
Utah State Aggies
2014 Record: 10-4 (6-2 in MWC)
Head Coach: Matt Wells (.679)
Returning Starters: 15/24 (9 OFF/6 DEF/0 SP)
5-Year Recruiting Ranking Composite: 103rd
FIVE POSSIBLE STATEMENT GAMES
- Sept. 11 @ Utah
- Sept. 19 @ Washington
- Oct. 3 v. Colorado State
- Oct. 16 v. Boise State
- Nov. 28 v. BYU
WHAT YOU REMEMBER/SHOULD REMEMBER ABOUT THE AGGIES
One name has been synonymous with Utah State football over the past four seasons that have coincided with the best run in program history: Chuckie Keeton. The quarterback first started in 2011, and then fully entered the national consciousness during the final season of WAC football in 2012 as he led the Aggies to an 11-2 record capped by a bowl victory over Toledo. Then this happened against BYU:
A promising 2013 season crumpled with Chuckie’s knee injury, though the Aggies still reached the MWC championship game against Fresno State. 2014 was supposed to be a triumphant return for Keeton, but four games in he was reinjured yet again. After an NCAA waiver, Keeton’s return for 2015 offers a reset on the promise with which Utah State entered last year. For the first time since USU wandered the independent wilderness in the early 1960s days of Merlin Olsen, the Aggies are once again a consistent powerhouse — with or without Chuckie, as they have proven the past two years.
THE KEY REASON FOR HOPE FOR THE AGGIES IN 2015
The quarterback situation clarified itself a bit when Darrel Garretson transferred to Oregon State. Keeton is once again the undisputed starter, but if he should go down again sophomore Kent Myers had experience last year starting after Garretson’s injury. The offense returns eight other starters, including almost all of the skill players and four of last year’s starting offensive linemen, from a unit that should be even more dynamic than the disjointed unit that built up depth as it dealt with injuries in 2014.
The schedule also provides several statement opportunities. The Aggies play both of the other I-A schools in Utah, with an opportunity to knock off a Pac-12 dark horse and an independent potentially even more dangerous than Notre Dame. They will also get to take on old nemesis Chris Petersen as he leads his new charges at Washington. FCS Southern Utah rounds out a non-conference schedule that provides ample opportunity to boost schedule strength and national notoriety. If the Aggies can play at or even near the top-25 level of defense they’ve enjoyed the past few years, at least one upset could vault Utah State into the Access Bowl discussion.
WHAT COULD COST THE AGGIES THE ACCESS BOWL SLOT
The biggest obstacle in Utah State’s path to claiming an Access Bowl bid is the team that won the honor last year. When you’re in the same conference as Boise State, the roadblock is readily apparent. Beyond the Broncos, however, is a slew of other challengers in the Mountain Division of the Mountain West. Colorado State could remain a contender under new head coach Mike Bobo. Air Force and New Mexico will both offer major challenges. And Wyoming has the potential for a breakthrough season under former North Dakota State head coach Craig Bohl.
To have a shot at the Access Bowl, Utah State must first upset Boise State and the rest of the MWC Mountain field to claim the top spot in the division and make it to the championship game. That will be the biggest challenge for the Aggies this season. They managed to upset Boise State in 2013 to take the division, and were tied for second place behind Colorado State last season. The Aggies won’t be far off, but even an inch off will put them out of the running this season in a deep MWC field.
OFFERING A POTENTIAL OUTCOME FOR 2015
The season opener against FCS Southern Utah should result in a sound victory over the Thunderbirds as Utah State prepares to take on Utah in Salt Lake City the following weekend. That showdown against the Utes provides the first opportunity against Pac-12 competition, and they defeated their in-state rival as recently as 2012 and finished within four points the last time they faced one another in Rice-Eccles Stadium in 2013. The following weekend offers a shot to take down Washington in Seattle; expect Utah State to win one of these two Pac-12 road contests to end September at 2-1, with a major statement win and a hard-fought close defeat on the record.
The Aggies have the chance to atone for last year’s close loss at Colorado State with a home game against the Rams, and conference play should begin strong for Utah State with a more decisive result this year. A trip to Fresno State should put the Aggies at 4-1 (and 2-0 in MWC play) ahead of a Friday night spectacular at home against Boise State. With a win over the Rams already in the bag, this should be the decisive matchup to decide the Mountain Division, and unless Keeton explodes against a fearsome Broncos defense it is likely that the visitors will succeed — possibly in overtime. Utah State should rebound against San Diego State and Wyoming, ending October at 6-2 and 4-1 in MWC play; another 10-win season and a great bowl matchup is in play, but to regain Access Bowl standing the Aggies will have to hope for two Boise losses at this point.
Instead they should at least manage to close out conference play with three more victories over New Mexico, Air Force, and Nevada, putting 10 wins in reach in the regular-season finale against BYU. The long-sought battle between Taysom Hill and Chuckie Keeton will almost certainly be worth the wait, as the two dual-threat quarterbacks rebound from gruesome leg injuries to put on a post-Thanksgiving show worth the holiday weekend. Last year the Aggies defeated a Hill-less Cougars squad; this time BYU will probably take this contest and position itself as a CFP test case for non-Notre Dame independents, while Utah State will have to wait for its bowl game to get that elusive 10th win. Keeton will still go out in victory, making his comeback all the sweeter.
PREDICTED RECORD: 10-3 (7-1 in MWC)