It's always bitter-sweet looking back at the end of the football season. Well, actually, that's not true... before Gary Andersen came to Utah State, it was mostly just bitter. But that's beside the point. In recent years, the end of the season has become a time of year to appreciate the good of the recently closed chapter in Aggie football, as well as to look forward with hope to the next.
This season had its fair share of both heartache and joy. Since I prefer to end on a high note, I'll start with the bitter. Injuries, injuries, injuries... the problems at Utah State this year are, for the most part, summarized in those three words. Before the season even started, the Aggies lost starters who would have made a significant impact on the field. Star-caliber athletes went down during the course of the season: Chuckie Keeton, who was a pre-season Heisman hopeful, was lost to a season ending injury for the third time in his career; and Kyler Fackrell, perhaps the most talented player in the conference- he was expected to be one of the top linebackers in the NFL draft had he chosen to go that route-, went down in the first game of the year. In all, nearly a dozen players, mostly seniors and starters, ended up on the sideline, done for the season. The biggest hits were, of course, to the quarterback and linebacker crews, who lost three and four players respectively.
And there were the losses; first, the punch straight to the jaw from Tennessee in the season opener, then the close heartbreaks against Arkansas State and Colorado State after blowing early leads. Finally, after overcoming enormous odds, they were back in a position to control their own post-season destiny, and then were blown out by Boise State in the most disappointing game the Aggies have played in recent memory. Poor special teams play once again had a large factor in those early losses, stirring the seeds of doubt in even the most faithful Aggie hearts.
But the courage, determination, comradery, and resilience of this team gave the fans a season filled with more positive than negative. And it's interesting how expectations can change so quickly... Five years ago, Aggie fans would have been ridiculously excited with simply reaching a bowl game. After three consecutive bowl appearances, two consecutive bowl wins, and a conference championship followed by a division championship, the hype around the team was at an all-time high heading into this season. Most unbiased observers would say this team under performed, and didn't quite meet its potential, and they would probably be right. But let's put that in context.
The graduating seniors are the winningest class in the history of Aggie football. The ten wins the team accumulated this season are the second most in school history, second only to the eleven wins in 2012, which these seniors and juniors were also a part of. The Aggies have put players in the NFL each of the past four years- eight players were drafted during that stretch- and will probably have at least one more this year. To get the next eight Utah State players drafted prior to 2011, you'd have to go all the way back to 1989. Four quarterbacks, including true freshman Kent Myers, performed at a high level of play, and shocked onlookers by their ability to simply keep moving forward, despite sudden changes in team dynamics or lack of experience. The Aggies beat a ranked, then-undefeated rival on the road as they took down BYU in Provo for the first time in 37 years.
USU has emerged as one of the premier teams in the Mountain West Conference, and has garnered national respect as a team that cannot be overlooked. They have more depth than anyone could possibly have predicted, especially at the skill positions. They've arrived at a place they've never been before, and they appear to be cementing themselves in that role for years to come. And this year, more than any other year, they did so despite every excuse to collapse and surrender.
This may not have been the season everyone dreamed about before the kickoff against Tennessee. But it was pretty incredible nonetheless. And for this Aggie fan, at least, I am grateful to have been part of the experience. To Coach Wells, et al, let's go have another great year in 2015.