On Thursday afternoon, the Mountain West dropped the 2020 schedule for conference teams. Here is what the schedule will look like for Utah State.
Week 1 (Oct. 24): at Boise State
This is a tough get for the Aggies. Playing Boise State is never easy but starting the season against the Broncos on the road even if no fans will be in Boise will be challenging. The Broncos return Hank Bachmeier and George Holani, both of whom had very impressive freshmen seasons. The Broncos lose starters on defense but return a lot of experience at linebacker and in the secondary. Utah State may have quarterback problems to start the season against a talented linebacker group and secondary. One area where Utah State may have success in this game is in their pass rush and run stopping defensive line. The Broncos lost most of the starters on their offensive line so if Utah State can get pressure on Bachmeier and Holani, they may be able to keep this game close.
Week 2 (Oct. 31): vs San Diego State
This should also be a difficult game for the Aggies, but maybe a little easier than Boise State since the Aggies are breaking in a new head coach and don’t have the defensive mind of Rocky Long. There are a lot of unknowns about the Utah State offense and how they will be able to perform so they aren’t well suited for a higher scoring game (which is what Boise State could be). The game against the Aztecs feels much more like a defensive slugfest and this suits Utah State much better as they have more experience. If the Aggies can do enough on offense and their defense can make big plays, Utah State stands a good chance of keeping this game close and maybe even winning it outright.
Week 3 (Nov. 7): at Nevada
After a 36-10 beatdown at home against Nevada in 2019, expect this game to be much closer this year. These games have tended to be a little closer as of lately and Nevada’s quarterback Carson Strong should be better after a strong (pun intended) freshmen season. Nevada finished 4-4 in conference play last year but they do return talent on an offense that was inexperienced last year. This game will certainly be closer than last years but Utah States offense should be improved enough to pull out a close victory on the road. I would also expect this one to be lower scoring.
Week 4 (Nov. 14): vs Fresno State
Fresno State was... well pretty bad last year. After spending time ranked in the polls and going to the Mountain West title game two years in a row, losing in 2017 and winning in 2018, the Bulldogs finished the 2019 season at 4-8 (2-6) and had uncharacteristic losses to San Jose State and Colorado State and two home losses to Utah State and Nevada. This was surprising considering that Fresno State started the season with an eight point loss to USC and a double overtime loss to a Minnesota team that turned out to be very good. Fresno State also has a new coach coming in this year and will need to find a replacement quarterback for Jorge Reyna but they do return Ronnie Rivers. Rivers led the team in rushing yards last season with 889 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns. He has been named to several watch lists and should help the Fresno State offesne to improve, however Utah State may prove to be a little too much with an experienced defense but 2020 has been a weird year.
Week 5 (Nov. 21): at Wyoming
Next to Boise state, this could be third or even the second hardest game on the Aggies schedule. The Cowboys also return a freshman quarterback now sophomore in Sean Chambers. He led the Aggies to a bowl victory over Georgia State and also a big win against Missouri in the season opener before missing the rest of the season with injury. At the point of injury, Wyoming was 6-2 (3-1) and was in great position to battle Boise State for the Mountain Division the week after. Utah State will need to be at the top of their game and luckily for the Aggies, this game comes later in the season so they will have time to work the kinks out. This is a very significant game because it could be a game that determines one of the teams that goes the to Mountain West title game on December 19th.
Week 6 (Nov. 28): vs New Mexico
This might just be the easiest game on the schedule. With all respect to the Lobos, they have not been very good of lately. In 2019 they finished the 2-10 and didn’t win a single conference game and the results were similar in 2018. The last time the Lobos made a bowl game was in 2016, when they finished 9-4 and only had 2 conference losses. This also happens to be the best season that New Mexico had this past decade. The Lobos do bring in a new head coach in Danny Gonzales and Gonzales brought in Rocky Long from San Diego State as his defensive coordinator. A one year turnaround for the Lobos seems to be asking a lot. If this game were at New Mexico, I would say the score would probably be a little closer, however it is in Logan and Utah State is the better team and should prove that.
Week 7 (Dec. 5): vs. Air Force
The fact that this is a home game for the Aggies makes a difference because like Boise State, Utah State has struggled to win at Falcon Stadium. The last time the Falcons won at Falcon Stadium was in 2013, seven years ago. But again this game isn’t at Falcon Stadium, it is at Maverick Stadium. The Aggies lost to the Falcons last year 31-7 and beat the Falcons 42-32 in the Aggies 2018 campaign. Since 2014, the Aggies are 2-1 against the Falcons at home and Air Force is going to be missing personnel this year due to injurie and players opting out. It is hard to tell what this version of the Falcons will look like without presumed starter Donald Hammond (deemed a cadet not in good standing) and the Falcon’s first game on October 3rd against Navy may be a good indicator of how the Falcons will look. Either way, I would expect Gary Anderson to have his team ready for what looks to be an important home game.
Week 8 (Dec. 12): at Colorado State
Colorado State is another Mountain West team that is going to be debuting a new head coach this season (there are six Mountain West teams with new coaches) and the Rams new coach is Steve Addazio, who comes from Boston College. There was wide speculation that Colorado State was in for a turnaround after a successful 2017 season under Mike Bobo, however over the past two seasons, the Rams have missed out on the postseason and have not done very well in conference play. After beating the Aggies in 2017, Utah State has won two straight games against the rams in 2018 and 2019. It will be interesting to see how Colorado State responds under new leadership but I do think this game will be closer than some might think. If this game was earlier in the season, maybe the Aggies have a little more of a stable win. Colorado State is much like New Mexico or UNLV in that it will likely take more than one year to bring the program back to success, but this fame could still be closer because of the weather. The game takes place on December 12th in Fort Collins, so snow will probably be a factor. Utah State’s offense should be just enough offensive growth this year behind more experienced wide receiver and offensive line groups.
What will the record look like?
Assuming all games are played, I would project Utah State to finish 5-3. There are a couple of games where it could be a close call, such as vs San Diego State, at Nevada, at Wyoming, and vs Air Force so it could also be likely that the Aggies win three of those four games or split them. The one opponent that Utah State doesn’t stack up as well against is Boise State, especially since that will be the Aggies first game of the season and there are bound to be problems to work out on both sides. If the offensive line can protect whoever starts at quarterback and the running backs can contribute more on offense, the Aggies should improve from last year and keep themselves in more games. Defensively, the Aggies will need to be able to hold their ground and make big time plays, especially against Boise State, San Diego State, Wyoming and Air Force. It is really hard to decipher what this Aggies team may look like, but that should become more clear as the Mountain West season begins.