With the football season just days away, it's time for my annual game-by-game breakdown of the Aggies' schedule. As an FYI, I accept the homer label as 100% true, but as always will attempt to be impartial in my analyses.
For my breakdowns, I rate each game on a scale, from ‘guaranteed loss' to ‘guaranteed win' (with ‘probable loss', ‘toss-up', and ‘probable win' in between). Different factors go into my assessment, including the date of the game, the length of the break from the previous game, player suspensions, rivalry chaos, location, likely weather conditions, barometric pressure, and logo designs, just to name a few. It's never as simple as "Who's the better team, team A or team B?" With that understanding, let's jump into it!
Thursday, September 3rd- vs. Southern Utah University: This game is unequivocally in the guaranteed win category. The mighty Thunderbirds have gone 41-71 over the past ten years in the power Big Sky conference, and have never been more than a mediocre D1-AA team. The Aggies defense will stifle their offense, and the offense will have plenty of opportunities to smooth out some wrinkles that will come from lack of live game play interactions between Chuckie Keeton and the receivers. The Aggies will need to not just win, but to win big if they want to have any shot of making waves in the national scene this year.
Friday, September 11th- @ University of Utah: This will be the toughest game of the year for the Aggies. The Utes have a decent claim to being the best defense they will face this season. They also have likely the best running back they'll see. That being said, the run game is the strength of the Utes' offense, and stopping the run is the name of the game for USU's defense. The Aggies will be without four of their better players for this game after losing three to suspensions and one to a dismissal from the team. How the offense performs without Hunter Sharp will be the deciding factor in this game. The loss of those players took this game from a maybe probable loss to a definite probable loss, but should not be seen in any way as a guaranteed loss. It's a rivalry game, and teams sometimes do surprising things for rivalries; having an extra day to prepare will help too. It'll be close- under a 10 point margin either way- as both defenses hold the other's offense in check in a low-scoring affair. My official guess is Utah by 7.
Saturday, September 19th- @ University of Washington: Washington is young and inexperienced overall this year. They lost far too many players on both sides of the ball, and give the Aggies their best shot in years at upsetting a P5 team on the road. Not that I think it will be an upset, to be honest... this game falls squarely in the likely win category. The USU defense will absolutely dominate the UW offense, which had a run-first attitude last year and likely will again with an inexperienced QB. And despite some playmakers on the defensive side of the ball for the Huskies, the Aggies should be able to make some big plays through the air against a suspect secondary. One or two big plays will likely be all it takes, as the rest of the game will be a defensive battle. I expect a 10+ point win for USU coming out of Seattle with the W and Washington will drop to 0-2 vs. the MWC.
Saturday, October 3rd- vs. Colorado State University: USU gets its one and only bye week after the Washington game before opening conference play at home against a somewhat weakened Ram team. While not a guaranteed win, I feel quite confident about this game, and slot it as a probable win. Without the loss of Darrell Garretson mid-game and those two ridiculously impressive 50+ yard field goals, the Aggies would have come away from Ft. Collins with a win last year. The Aggies will likely be improved this year while CSU likely takes a step back after losing an incredible head coach, QB, and RB. I think the Aggies should walk away with a comfortable 2~ TD victory.
Saturday, October 10th- @ Fresno State University: After a rollercoaster season last year where they beat SDSU but lost to UNLV and Wyoming, the Bulldogs miraculously made the conference championship game. I don't expect a three-peat performance of reaching the CCG this year, as Fresno touts one of the youngest crews in the conference. The likely outcome here is an Aggie victory, which is what I'm predicting, but playing at Fresno is usually tough enough that I'm not guaranteeing it here. Still, while a loss isn't ruled out, my prediction is closer to a 15 point Aggie victory.
Friday, October 16th- vs. Boise State University: Fortunately for USU, the Broncos are also getting shorted a day in preparation for this game, and USU has the benefit of playing this game at home, whereas Boise is on the road for the second straight week. While it can't be considered a rivalry yet, USU has been one of the top threats to Boise's dominance in the MWC the past couple years, and it is starting to get the feel of a rivalry. The Aggies certainly have a chip on their shoulder coming into this game, and you can bet the Broncos have this game circled on their calendars as well (although they have less to prove). This game, in my opinion, is the de facto conference championship game, as I don't believe any team in the West division will be as good as either of these two. Boise State has earned the right to be assumed the favorite, and so despite my belief that this will be the best team the Aggies have ever put on the field, I can't in good conscience pick USU to win it. But neither can I pick them to lose it, placing this game in the toss-up category. My fan heart feels that we'll see a similar outcome to the 2012 Utah game, with the Aggies sneaking out with a very close win. My head says that a loss wouldn't surprise me in the least.
Friday, October 23rd- @ San Diego State University: As the hope of the West division this season, the Aztecs are the third most worrisome opponent on the Aggies' docket. That being said, in spite of SDSU bringing an intense defense and aggressive running offense, the expectation is that the Aggies will be able to contain Donnell Pumphrey with their typical defensive zeal, and that whoever takes over at the QB spot for SDSU will still be on par with Quinn Kaehler's mediocrity. I feel confident about the Aggies matchups in this game, but after the Boise State game the week before, this game has the feel of a letdown... I'm a little uneasy about it, and so I'm putting it down as a toss-up. This one is the opposite from the Boise game... My head is saying USU should win, but my gut disagrees.
Friday, October 30th- vs. University of Wyoming: Despite impressive playmakers in fellows like Shaun Wick and Brian Hill, this game should be a bit of a yawner. I'm calling it a guaranteed win for the home team as USU should take the Cowboys to the shed for a good ol'-fashioned whooping.
Saturday, November 7th- @ University of New Mexico: While I expect better things of UNM this season compared to last, I'm also slotting this game as a guaranteed win. UNM runs the ball very, very well. USU stops the run very, very well. It'll be a long day for the Lobos.
Saturday, November 14th- @ Air Force Academy: USU is fortunate to have this game come right on the heels of the UNM game, as both teams are so heavily run-oriented. It should be an easy transition from one one-dimensional offense to another, and I expect a handy victory for the Aggies in their second consecutive road game. I'm calling this the last guaranteed victory for the Aggies this season.
Saturday, November 21st- vs. University of Nevada- Reno: The Wolfpack have been struggling the past few years. Despite being, in my opinion, a stronger overall team than Fresno State last year, they lost the head-to-head and hence the division. They lost some key pieces from last year, and especially given that the game will be played in Logan, I'm tempted to call it a guaranteed win. Nevada often plays well at the most inopportune times, however, and surprises opponents who take them for granted. I'm putting this down as a probable win, with the probability being really, really high.
Saturday, November 28th- vs. Brigham Young University: This game will (hopefully) have a ton of hype. BYU has a monster schedule, and could potentially be ranked at this point of the season. USU may also be ranked. This is now the only real meaningful rivalry game that either of these teams has left, and over the past two seasons, these two teams have combined to remove each other's QB for the season three times (USU has broken Taysom twice and BYU broke Chuckie once). The rivalry officially became a thing after Utah decided they were too good to play BYU anymore and after USU beat BYU for the second time in five years. Adding insult to injury, USU beat BYU last year in front of the Cougars' home fans, while they were undefeated and ranked. BYU will be rabid with desire for revenge, and USU will be looking to establish themselves as a power in the state. BYU brings back Taysom this year, and is using the ESPN engine to tout him as a Heisman dark horse. Regardless of the outcome, one can only hope that both quarterbacks make it out of the game healthy; no one wants to see Taysom injured against USU for a third straight year. As far as the game goes, rivalries change the norms of what is expected; normally, I'd say this game favors the Aggies by 7-10-ish points. Given the passion both teams will bring, though, I'm listing it as a toss-up. My guess is that USU will win by 3-7 points, maybe in overtime.
Overview: This season features a grand total of zero unwinnable games. Of the rest, there's only one that I'm thinking is a probable loss. All the others are toss-ups or are tilted in the Aggies favor. 9-3 or 10-2 is likely, with the grand caveat that the team stays healthy and stops losing players to stupid, suspension-causing mistakes. If they lose Chuckie or Fackrell, or if Sharp doesn't get his act together, it could be a long season, with a floor of maybe 6-6. My guess is a hopeful one, and I think they'll end with a 10-2 record, with a loss to Utah and either Boise State or San Diego State. Depending on which one they lose to, they'll either be in the CCG or in the chat room conversations saying "Well, we should be in the CCG, we're one of the two best teams in the conference." Regardless, they should be getting votes if they're not ranked, and should nab one of the better bowl games the conference has to offer, with a slimmest of chances to get to a NY6 bowl. Let me know how much you disagree with my assessment in the comment section below!