Today’s column looks at the to-do list that Blake Anderson faces as he takes the helm at Utah State.
Since the end of last season, it has been my opinion that it would be best for the future of the Aggie’s football program and for the success of Coach Anderson to commit to a long-term rebuild. While some may see an opportunity for a quick-fix and conference title contender in the next two years, I am not as optimistic. Instead, I have identified a general but important list of items that need to be accomplished in order to bring Utah State to the top of the Mountain West.
These are only my views, and they may be completely offbase. However, none of these ideas will hurt anything, so we may as well dive in.
Establish the culture of a roster featuring players from three different coaches
Anderson is inheriting a mismatched roster, to say the least. It has players from Matt Wells, Gary Andersen, and now the first recruiting class for Blake Anderson. Even Anderson’s class was extremely diverse, featuring high school players, JUCO players, players returning from LDS missions, and college transfers.
The top priority for Coach Anderson, and what he has likely already attempted to do, is to unite all these different players under one unified new culture. Getting every player to buy into what his program is about and share the values he is preaching is the foundation for the program’s future. If Blake can get the team to like one another, take the new program values seriously, and play for the team, then the Aggies are heading in the right direction.
Blend the schemes on both sides of the ball to the different styles of talent on the roster.
With all the different talent, the biggest challenge on the field is how to settle on offensive and defensive schemes. Does Coach Anderson play the players who fit his schemes and perhaps sit some talented players because of this? Or, do the coaches decide to play the best players and adjust their scheme in the process to maximize the talent?
There are pros and cons to both strategies, and both will involve identifying the different scheme options available to them based on the makeup of the roster.
It would make sense for Anderson to do a slow roll-out of his scheme, increasing more of his offense and defense as more of his recruited players see the field. If he is committed to his schemes no matter what, expect a complete youth movement or some growing pains. However, if he takes a blended approach, there could be a variety of schemes and player packages in order to put each player in the best position to succeed.
Have a wide-open quarterback battle and identify a clear starter.
Last year, the Aggies rotated between two quarterbacks during the season as they searched for some consistency and someone to inject some life into their offense. Coach Anderson declared an open competition for the starting quarterback spot this offseason, with many players competing. Although it’s only been one season, it feels like a lifetime since they had consistency with first-round talent Jordan Love. Finding and committing to the quarterback of the present and the future will go a long way towards offensive stability in this new era.
Continue to recruit well.
Blake Anderson put together a pretty good class considering it was done on the fly in January. Thus far in the 2022 recruiting cycle, he and his staff have been recruiting early and often. They are borrowing a page from the Jay Norvell recruiting book, identifying players who fit the culture and style of play and getting them to commit early in the year. While this approach may sacrifice talent sometimes, it is effective in making the players they are prioritizing feel prioritized.
Eventually, Coach Anderson and co will need to alter their recruiting tactics. However, filling open spots with their kind of players can go a long way to accomplishing some of the above items on the to-do list.
Win, but not at the cost of development.
Again, there is nothing wrong with this being a long-term rebuild. And it may not end up being a complete rebuild. Looking at their schedule, anywhere from three to six wins seems possible in 2021. Although more wins would be nice, they aren’t necessarily essential this season. The key is improvement each season, similar to how Nevada has been under Jay Norvell.
It seems likely Anderson can get to his seven-win plateau within three years and maybe sooner, depending on how quickly he goes through this list. If he accomplishes it sooner, even better. But three seasons or 2023 sounds about right for the Aggies to make their first bowl game in the Anderson era.
However, development is the top priority. Getting snaps and experience for the young players, learning the system, and adjusting to the pace of the college game is vital for the 2023 season, even if it brings bumps and bruises in 2021.
People can feel free to disagree with the timeline, but regardless, all the points discussed above should contribute to the success everyone inside the Utah State football program, and all the fans who support the program want to have.