After a very disappointing 2020 season where Utah State parted with their head coach mid season and lost key players throughout the season, the Aggies have a new era to look forward to. New head coach Blake Anderson has been busy forming his staff and preparing his team for Spring football, an important part of the offseason for team development. On March 5th, the Mountain West released the 2021 football schedule which hopefully remains unchanged. So, what does the Utah State schedule look like and what are the challenges that the Aggies will face?
at Washington State (September 4th)
This is going to be an interesting game and important one for Blake Anderson. Washington State only played four games last season and finished 1-4 and Utah State also finished the season with one win. With a win, Anderson would quickly win over the fan base and continue to inspire the players. It would give Utah State confidence they need to go into Mountain West play, where they start the season with significant challenges in Air Force and Boise State. Power Five wins are always a big deal for a Group of Five team and Blake Anderson led Arkansas State to a big win over Kansas State. The last time Utah State beat a power five team was in 2014 with a win over Wake Forest. This should be a close game early on but Washington State could ultimately pull away in the end.
vs North Dakota (September 11th)
Before the start to the conference games, Utah State will get a little bit of a break against North Dakota but the Aggies will still need to be careful with this opponent. This looks to be a game where Utah State could work to figure out some offensive success, an area where Utah State might struggle against Washington State. If Utah State can pull off a reasonably winnable game here, the Aggies will be 1-1 going into conference play. It is unknown whether Andrew Peasley or Logan Bonner will be the starter for Utah State or whether the Aggies will go with both quarterbacks, but this game could lead to one of the two pulling away to become the starter.
at Air Force (September 18th)
This is a big one but maybe not the biggest of the season. Utah State lost this game 35-7 last year and 31-7 in 2019, which means that it has been almost three years since Utah State beat Air Force in one of the most successful seasons in Utah State history. This is typically a game that is significant in determining who wins the mountain division. Utah State needs to have success this season after underperforming expectations the past two seasons. The change of coaching to Blake Anderson could provide the energy and growth in the program necessary to have a successful season but this is just speculation as it is unknown what the Anderson led Aggies will look like. The next game after the Air Force game is Boise State, so gaining confidence before that game will be important in making the game closer.
vs Boise State
It could be argued that other games such as San Jose State and Wyoming are also big games, but the Boise State game is without question the biggest game of the season for Utah State. This could go a long way to Utah State making the Mountain West title game, because the road to the title game in the division usually goes through Boise State. It has been nearly six years since Utah State beat Boise State in a 52-26 game and that was the last time the Aggies beat the Broncos.
Utah State came oh so close to going to the conference championship but fell to Boise State by 11 and ended that season with a win in the New Mexico Bowl, finishing 11-2 (7-1). The past two games have been blow out loses for Utah State and that will be something they will need to avoid this year. Utah State has the advantage of still playing Boise State early on where teams still have most of their players healthy and also having the game at home. Boise State will be coming off an emotionally charged game against Oklahoma State and will have already played UCF and will also have important games against Nevada and BYU after the Utah State game which could lead to a closer game or even an Aggies upset if Utah State has enough figured out.
vs BYU (October 1st)
This is also an important game for Utah State, not because it is a conference game but because BYU is a long time rival and it always feels good winning a game that has history behind it. The last time the Aggies took down the Cougars was in 2018 in a 45-20 game. This season BYU will be looking to replace Zach Wilson but the Cougars are always a pretty tough matchup. The key to this game should be which offense can get going as both have the ability to make stops on defense. Last season, Utah State’s defense gave up a lot of big plays and this will undoubtedly be something that Blake Anderson addresses during Spring ball and the offseason. This is a tricky game to decipher because again, we don’t know what these two teams will look like. However, this could be a difficult challenge just like the previous game against Boise State.
at UNLV (October 16th)
After a bye week, Utah State will head to UNLV, which could be considered a break because of the previous matchups against Air Force, Boise State, and BYU. In the last stretch of games in fact, the most difficult looking challenges right now are going to be San Jose State and Wyoming, potentially even Hawaii. What does this mean for Utah State? Well they could be going into the UNLV as an at best four win team and at worst one win team. It means that the first half of the schedule is going to go a long way in determining how the season goes for Utah State.
In many ways, that is a lot of pressure since the two biggest games of their conference schedule are happening in September, when they could still by trying to figure things out as a team. UNLV is a winnable game and is going to be a must win for Utah State to stay alive in the conference title race.
vs Colorado State (October 23rd)
Colorado State was... well not very good in their abbreviated 2020 season. They had quite a few games canceled but in the few games that they did play, the Rams went 1-3 with a lone win against Wyoming. Their worst showing was against Boise State, a 52-21 drubbing that had the Broncos blocking three kicks and returning all three for touchdowns. The last time the Rams beat the Aggies was in 2017 in a 27-14 game. The Rams went 4-8 (3-5) in 2019 and 3-9 (2-6) in 2018. Ever since a 10-3 (6-2) season in 2014, Colorado State has really struggled to have success, not finishing a single season above seven wins since 2014. The Rams are under newer leadership with Steve Addazio, who comes from Boston College and is entering his second season as head coach.
Last season isn’t a good indicator to how Colorado State has grown in the past two seasons as COVID-19 affected everything about the sport. If this game was in Fort Collins it may be more challenging but since it is a home game for the Aggies, it is a more winnable game and a win would really keep Utah State competitive in the conference race overall.
vs Hawaii (October 30th)
This should be a very interesting game because it will be a significant one for both teams, who should be in the run for respective division titles. Hawaii is a harder team to pin down because there are some games, such as the 2019 Nevada game, where Hawaii unexpectedly wins a blowout game. However, there are other games where Hawaii just doesn’t play with the same amount of intensity and ends up losing a game they should not have lost, such as the 41-38 loss to Fresno State in 2019. The same was true in 2020 with a bad loss to Wyoming and a loss to San Diego State but a win over Nevada and eventually Houston in the bowl game.
The Warriors vs Aggies game this year will depend on which Hawaii team shows up. An important statistic to remember is that Hawaii is long overdue for a win for Utah State as they haven’t beaten the Aggies since 2010. This means that Hawaii has not won a single game against Utah State in the Mountain West era. Something important to consider however is that Hawaii has improved over the years, even beating San Diego State and making it to the Mountain West title game in 2019. The one thing Utah State cannot afford is to give up big plays on defense.
If the Aggies defense is consistently on the field and giving up big plays, this is going to be a long day for Utah State. Against Hawaii, Utah State will need to establish a balanced attack on offense to keep their defense off the field and make plays on defense.
at New Mexico State (November 6th)
This game isn’t important in terms of conference play so much because it is an out of conference matchup, but it could be important for Utah State’s bowl eligibility chances. In 2019 and 2018, New Mexico State went 2-10 and 3-9 respectively. The last time these two teams met was in 2017 in the Arizona Bowl, where New Mexico State pulled off a 26-20 victory in overtime. The game taking place in 2021 should be a different result. By this point in the season Utah State may already be bowl eligible but due to the difficulty of the games at the beginning of the season, it does seem unlikely. With potential losses to Washington State, Air Force, Boise State, and BYU, the Aggies could be 3-5 coming into this game. With games at San Jose State and Wyoming still left after the New Mexico State game, Utah State may have very little room for error.
Beating New Mexico State would provide the Aggies with a stronger chance of being bowl eligible and they could very likely drop one or both games against San Jose State and Wyoming. To be safe, the Aggies may need to secure a win over New Mexico State.
at San Jose State (November 13th)
Last season, San Jose State was a surprise team that caught a lot of people’s attention during the 2020 season as they won their first Mountain West title over Boise State. This year, they will look to continue that success which makes them a very dangerous team to play especially late into the season. San Jose State could still be trying to fend off San Diego State, Hawaii, and maybe even Nevada and will be focused on getting a win that could set them apart from other teams. Utah State could be in the same position with a win over Air Force or Boise State, maybe even both teams.
A win over San Jose State would keep the Aggies in the hunt while a San Jose State win over the Aggies would separate them from the rest of the pack and may lead to San Jose State winning the West division. It will be interesting to see if San Jose State can keep up the same success from last year and if they can, this could turn into a really fun one to watch.
vs Wyoming (November 20th)
One of the keys to this game is where it is being played. This time of year, Laramie is typically covered in snow and playing a football game in freezing temperatures and a blizzard is extremely difficult. However, this game is taking place in Logan this year. Wyoming finished the shortened 2020 season at 2-4 with wins over Hawaii and UNLV and losses to Nevada, Colorado State, New Mexico, and Boise State. In 2019 Wyoming finished 8-4 (4-4) and lost to Utah State that season in a 26-21 game. The last time the Cowboys beat the Aggies was in 2017, with a score of 28-23. Wyoming can typically do a good job about hanging around in important conference games but has not quite gotten over the hump of winning those games. Wyoming has never won a conference title but did make it to the title game in 2016. This is a team that tends to hang around as previously stated so while it is a winnable game, Utah State will need to be on their game to get past the Cowboys.
at New Mexico (November 27th)
During the 2020 season, New Mexico went 2-5. Looking at who they played this past season, which included San Jose State, Hawaii, Nevada, Air Force, and Wyoming among others, it may not be such a great indication of how good or bad this team is under now second year head coach Danny Gonzales. New Mexico hasn’t much success in football for quite a few years now, consistently finishing the past couple seasons with two or three wins. Their most recent successful season came in 2016, when the Lobos went 9-4 (6-2). That season, the Lobos came very close to making it to the conference title game, however a late season loss to Colorado State kept them out of the title game. New Mexico beat Hawaii, Nevada, Utah State, and Wyoming but lost a second conference game in a blowout loss to Boise State.
Danny Gonzales looks to turn this program around, however that is a difficult feat especially with COVID-19 still impacting the sports world, specifically the college football world. If it turns into the defensive battle maybe New Mexico does have a little edge with an experienced defensive coach in Rocky Long on staff, but if Utah State can get their offense going, they would certainly have the edge. The 2020 matchup between the Aggies and Lobos turned into a shootout but the Lobos were unable to muster enough offense, falling behind in a 41-27 game. If the Lobos get into another shootout with the Aggies, the results would likely be similar.
Toughest game on the schedule: Boise State. There is no question. The Broncos loose head coach Bryan Harsin to Auburn but made an excellent hire in former Bronco player and coach Andy Avalos. He has put together quite the staff for Boise State, bringing over Tim Plough as offensive coordinator from UC Davis and promoting Spencer Danielson to defensive coordinator. The staff has quite a number of former Bronco players and has no doubt built community with the players. This is going to be a very hard team to beat because they return key players on both sides of the ball and Boise State doesn’t rebuild. They reload.
Easiest game on the schedule: New Mexico State could be the easiest team on the schedule. They have run into a rough road lately in trying to find success. The last time New Mexico State went to a bowl game, they beat Utah State. That is going to be a tall task this time around. This point was made earlier and it will be made again: We don’t know what Anderson’s Aggies will look like. He was able to get Arkansas State to bowl games but wasn’t able to find enough success to improve on each season. That doesn’t mean the same thing will happen at Utah State but it also doesn’t mean that it will not happen. This should be a game though, compared to others, that Utah State could win.