I am already suffering from football withdrawals and with spring practices not starting until march I needed some way to get my fix. So I figured why not take a close look at where Utah State's roster sits after the signing class before spring and fall camps. An early insight (or guess) at where things will shake out. A couple notes before we begin: Links under Key Additions lead to highlights of the new players; this is not a short piece maybe grab a cold drink before you begin and enjoy!
Key Losses: Frankie Sutera (SS); Brain Suite (FS)
Key Additions: N/A
The Bad News: Right away Utah State has huge holes to fill. Sutera and Suite were the third and fourth leading tacklers on the team (behind only the Vigil Brothers). Between the two of them they had 4.5 sacks, 9 interceptions, 11 pass break ups (PBUs), and 6 QB Hurries. That is a lot of production to be able to make up. Additionally, transfer Dallin Leavitt must sit out this year due to transfer rules.
The Good News: Devin Centers, who is listed as a safety but played corner mostly, is only a Junior this year. With the corners coming in this year it wouldn't be a surprise if Centers and his physical play was moved to one of the safety positions. As for the other safety I will give the edge right now to senior Marwin Evans, but Myron Turner or Jontrell Rocquemore could challenge him for the position.
Projected (read as: my best guess at) Starters: Devin Centers (SS); Marwin Evans (FS)
Key Losses: Rashard Stewart
Key Additions: Wesley Bailey; Cameron Haney
The Bad News: Rashard Stewart is a big loss. He contributed on defense for four years and provided great leadership. defensively he racked up 39 tackles and 8 PBUs. The secondary will be stretched thin as most backups are unproven.
The Good News: Jalen Davis is back and only a sophomore! Additions of Wesley Bailey and Cameron Haney will serve this class well. the depth from last year will prove difficult to sort out. I think red shirt (RS) junior Daniel Grey gets the start opposite of Davis. New comer Wesley Bailey will be the third corner and contribute a lot. While Cameron Haney's skills might be to much to keep off the field I think he will be redshirted.
Projected Starters: Jalen Davis and Daniel Grey
Key Losses: Zach Vigil
Key Additions: Kyler Fackrell; Joe Riggins; Daniel Langi; Mason Tobeck
The Bad News: Losing your arguably best defensive player, leading tackler (by over 30 tackles), and emotional leader on defense all in one player hurts. His stats were eye popping when I looked back on the 2014 season: 156 tackles, 20.5 tackle for loss, 9 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. One player might not be able to replace him but...
The Good News: Utah State has seven senior linebackers this year (I believe Fackrell took a medical redshirt, but if not he'd make eight). Fackrell isn't the only one coming back from injury. His replacement LT Filiaga, who excelled in his absence, is coming back from a torn achilles. I think if Filiaga is fully healthy he showed that he can earn a starting spot.
That leaves one spot for Torrey Green, Jerom Baldomero, La'Bradford Harold, Anthony Williams, and Michael Okonkwo (all the seniors). Alex Huerta is probably the leading underclassmen candidate to take one of the open spots. This will be the biggest battle to watch in spring football (Outside the QB but we'll get to that). In terms of the new guys in this class Joe Riggins is listed as a OLB / SS, I think he will become an outside linebacker after he redshirts his first year. Daniel Langi plans on serving an LDS Mission before joining the team, but he will be a anchor for the linebacking core when he does play.
Projected Starters: Kyler Fackrell (OLB), Nick Vigil (ILB), LT Filiaga (ILB), Torrey Green (OLB)
Key Losses: B.J. Larsen (DE), Elvis Kamana-Matagi (NT)
Key Additions: Harris Lachance (DE), Tommy Woo (Grey Shirt)
The Bad News: B.J. Larsen led the team in sacks (Tied with Zack Vigil) with nine. Beyond this years new first string the backups are a lot of very young unproven players. I know some will emerge as this staff and defense have been great for a few years now but the question is how many and how quickly.
The Good News: Larsen and Elvis' backups last year were really really good. Travis Seefeldt and Ricky Ali'ifua saw plenty of field time though rotations and I am Confident they will be able to step up into starting roles. Expect Mohelika Uaslike (NT), John Taylor (DE), Siua Taufa (DE) to be primary backups and play a lot.
Projected Starters: Ricky Ali'ifua (DE); Travis Seefeldt (NT); Jordan Nielsen (DE)
Key Losses: Kevin Whimpey
Key Additions: Viliamu Auwae; Wade Meacham; Jude Hockel; Preston Brooksby; Ben Wysocki
The Bad News: The last of the old guard is gone with Kevin Whimpey graduating. The amount of offensive line recruits brought in this class shows the lack of trust in who Utah State has up front right now. The competition created might take both spring and fall camp to fully sort out.
The Good News: A lot of great talent was brought in. Wade Meacham plans on serving a mission. I believe Utah State will red shirt Viliamu Auwae (he is also a possible grey shirt candidate), but he might prove too good to keep off the field. I expect Ben Wysocki, UCLA transfer, to compete somewhere along the interior line for a position. Jude Hockel and Preston Brooksby are JUCO signees that could also compete to start. This although not at all glamourous will be a very important battle to watch in spring and fall camps to see how things shake out.
Projected Starters: Jake Simonich (LT), Ben Wysocki (LG), Austin Stephens (C), Taani Fisiilau (RG), Jude Hockel (RT)
Key Losses: N/A
Key Additions: Chris Copier
The Bad News: Not much bad from this position, but nothing that great either. Utah State will look to change that this year.
The Good News: Production can really only go up from here. Chris Copier is expected to compete with Wyatt Houston and Landon Horne for playing time. Matt wells said of Copier "He's a big in-line guy that gives us some versatility, hopefully with some personnel packages to be able to play some more tight ends." I imagine Wyatt Huston will continue to be the starter and develop more into a threat in the passing game this season.
Projected Starter: Wyatt Houston
Key Losses: Ronald Butler
Key Additions: Chad Artist; Gerold Bright
The Bad News: Losing Butler hurts but its the depth or lack there of that might hurt Utah State at the wide reciever position. Outside the starters hayden Weichers is the only one with double digit catches (10).
The Good News: Leading receivers Hunter Sharp and JoJo Natson are back for their senior seasons. Brandon Swindall who figured to be a large part of the Aggies offense returns after losing last season to injury. He will battle Devonte Robinson who stepped up in his absence last year for the final starting spot. I expect Swindall to win it but both will see extensive time. I also think Aaron Wade might emerge as a reliable backup.
The two recruits brought in to help this position are great. Gerold Bright is a speedy option quarterback out of florida that will probably end up in the slot. He is very similar to JoJo Natson, maybe even faster. Chad Artist is a kid local to Cache Valley and Utah State. He has incredible speed and good size to help stretch the field. While both have the talents to succeed on the field with four solid seniors I believe these two will be redshirted.
Projected Starters: Hunter Sharp (X); JoJo Natson (Y); Brandon Swindall (Z)
Key Losses: Joe Hill
Key Additions: DeVante Mays
The Bad News: On the surface that years rushing attack did pretty good. 4.9 yards a carry and 180 a game. However of those yards less than half were gained by actually running backs (LaJuan Hunt, Joe Hill, Rashad Hall) Part of this can be blamed on the offensive line and Joe Hill's nagging injuries.
The Good News: The offensive line should (hopefully) be better this year. LaJuan Hunt showed excellent flashes in 2014 and will be ready to step into the primary back role. Junior College transfer DeVante Mays brings a physical (5'11" 235 lbs) presence to the Aggie back field and will plug in right away as a change of pace / power running back.
Projected Starters: LaJuan Hunt (Primary); DeVonte Mays (Power)
Key Losses: N/A
Key Additions: Cade Smith (Grey Shirt)
The Bad News and the Good News: Utah State has four very capable quarterbacks that could start for them.
Chuckie Keeton: There isn't much I can say about Chuckie that hasn't already been said. Ben did a really great piece here. While Jermey added another great perspective here. While I don't feel like much can be added to them I will try. I can not express how much respect I have for Chuckie and everything he has done for this program. If he is truly back to his original Chuckie Keeton form it will be hard not to give him the starting job, but the question remains Chuckie ever be able to recapture what he was before his injuries.
Darrel Garretson: Garretson might be in the hardest position of all the quarterbacks at Utah State. He is an excellent pocket passer who, while mobile in the pocket, isn't a big running threat. I initially thought that the change in Offensive Coordinator would benefit garretson. I thought Heupel and Oklahoma ran an offense geared heavily toward a pocket passer but I was wrong. Percentage of runs made by the quarterback for Heupel's offense the last two years at Oklahoma: 16.34% (2014), 26.12% (2013). For reference utah state was at 20.12% and 22.13%. It seems as Garretson might be the odd man out. Depending on what happens with Chuckie it wouldn't surprise me to see Garretson transfer.
Kent Myers: Myers was a true freshman last year when he stepped in and lead the Aggies. By all accounts he did a really good job leading the team to a 5-1 record in his six starts. Most Likely ( meaning without a crazy amount of injuries ) Myers will be redshirted this year. While he was really good another year of development will only benefit Myers and Utah State as a whole.
Damion Hobbs: I know this kid has not played a down as a college quarterback yet, but I am all in on Damion Hobbs. I am driving the Hobbs bandwagon and for good reasons. He reminds me of a hybrid between Keeton and Garretson. He has all the speed and moves of Keeton with the arm strength and accuracy of Garretson. I know highlights, which have been included below, are the best of the best but I've watched his game tape too and he is for real (yes I watched game tape, go ahead I'll wait while you laugh). He keeps his eyes down field while scrambling and is able to hit tight windows 45+ yards down field on the run! I know even after saying all that he still hasn't played a game of college football yet but from what I've heard he's only gotten better.
Projected Starter: Damion Hobbs
Hopefully that will be enough for your (and mine) football fix until spring football. Feel free to disagree (or agree) with me in the comments below or on twitter.