Henline Huddle: A letter for Aggie football pessimists and another for the optimists

Last week I asked an old roommate from Utah State if he was getting Aggie football season tickets. His response?

“I don’t know, Mitch. We’re just not good anymore.”

Then there was this other guy, one day later, who has no doubt this is USU’s year. He thinks the team will return to the Top-25 and have an outside shot at a big bowl game.

College football fans are funny that way. Some get worked up with optimism every summer knowing this fall will be the big one, that there is no reason to believe their team won’t be undefeated come December. Others, no matter how well last season’s team finished and how much good news comes out of fall camp, decide to think nothing will go right and that everyone should just prepare to be disappointed.

Whichever fan you are, I wrote something for you. I’ll attempt to calm down the doomsdayers and temper the expectations of those trying to decide which New Year’s Six game they hope to see the Aggies play in.

For the Aggie pessimists:

Look, I know you’ve been hurt and let down by the Aggies in the past. After three-straight seasons of finishing below the .500 mark you might not want to invest too much into the team, but here is why you should reconsider.

This team is experienced

When it comes to football, continuity and experience can beat talent. The Aggies will return nine starters on defense and 10 on offense.

Come on. If anything can get you over to the ticket office it should be that?

Perhaps the best part about it is returning all starters on the offensive line. Sure, there were some issues with the O-line a year ago, but giving those five guys an extra year together is going to go a long way.

Simply put, the team will be improved over last year. It isn’t just the players, either. Yes, there were some changes in the coaching staff, but for the first time in years there will be a second-year offensive coordinator. That counts for something.

The schedule looks to be much more favorable

The season starts off with a tough one at Michigan State and finishes with a late-November trip to Boise, but other than those two games it is hard to argue why any other should be written off as a loss.

Yeah, USU lost games to Wyoming, Colorado State and New Mexico State last year. Those are three teams back on the schedule again, but remember what I said about returning talent? The Aggies should be taking a step forward while the other three will be looking to replace top players. Wyoming lost quarterback Josh Allen to the NFL and Colorado State reaaaaally has to reload, at almost every position.

The Aggies’ 2017 road game at Wake Forest has been replaced with a home game against Tennessee Tech. Playing Hawaii, San Jose State and UNLV from the conference’s West Division is a great alternative to playing San Diego State, Fresno State and Nevada.

And BYU could very well resemble the BYU from a season ago.

Eberle

Do I really need to explain this one? Utah State’s special teams were top in the conference a season ago and the best part was Dominik Eberle. He finished as a finalist for the best-kicker-in-the-country Lou Groza Award and was a near guarantee for three points every time he lined up in front of the uprights.

(Yes, I’m aware of the New Mexico Bowl performance. I’ve heard rumors of food poisoning and think that was an exception that I doubt we’ll see again.)

Having a reliable kicker’s name on the roster is a luxury the Aggies have lacked since the program started returning to bowl games. It was the weak spot of the nationally-ranked team in 2012, which got beat at Wisconsin after missing what could have been a walk-off field goal.

If you are worried about the USU kicking game, worry about something else.

For the Aggie optimists:

I want Utah State to be a nationally-ranked Mountain West champion heading into a big bowl game as much as any other Aggie fan, and I agree that this team can be really good. Lets be realistic, though.

A should-win game doesn’t always end up being a win

Doesn’t there always seem to be at least one game every year when after it is over you shake your head and say, “There is no reason we should have lost that.”

Remember how last season ended? With two games left Utah State was 6-5, a major step up from the 3-9 disaster of a season the year before. Just one win – either against Air Force or the to-be-named bowl opponent – and Utah State would be guaranteed a winning season for the first time in three years.

I thought it was happening.

I had the Air Force game picked as a win. It was the last game of the regular season and the Falcons had only won four games up to that point, but it ended in a 38-35 in a come-from-behind victory for Air Force. Then, in the Arizona Bowl, USU hurt itself with four missed field goals, a fumble near the endzone and a drive-stopping penalty to lose to what I thought was a less-talented but very motivated New Mexico State team.

Those games happen almost every year. I hope it doesn’t, but it is likely to happen at some point this fall.

Even with the experience, there are question marks on both sides of the ball

Yes, there is a lot of returning experience, but there are still holes.

Some of those holes are with the defensive backs. The team lost a combined nine interceptions and 20 pass breakups just from losing Jalen Davis and Dallin Leavitt to the NFL. Other guys will need to step up.

To me, a bigger concern than the defensive back unit is the running game. Quarterback Jordan Love, now a redshirt sophomore, will need a strong rushing attack to take the pressure off himself. Who knows, the running game could be really, really good, but it could end up being a weak point. Right now it is just unproven.

LaJuan Hunt is gone, which means the running back with the most experience on the team is Eltoro Allen, who carried the ball 68 times for 284 yards. Gerold Bright averaged a really good 8.6 yards per carry on a limited amount of touches a season ago and is probably the No. 1 option at this point. Then there is Morian Walker Jr., Darwin Thompson and Tre Miller. One (or more) of those guys could emerge as a really good back, but until it happens Aggie fans can’t bank on it.

The toughest games are all on the road

I’m not even talking about Michigan State.

I’m talking about the conference games. Wyoming, Colorado State and Boise State will be the three toughest Mountain Division opponents. All of those games were losses a season ago and all of those games are on the road. I’m not saying USU will go 0-3 in those games, but even getting two wins of the three will be a challenge. Two-of-three might cost USU a spot in the conference championship game.

There is also the non-conference game everyone cares about, the one in Provo. Sure, BYU is down and USU handled the Cougars a season ago, but LaVell Edwards Stadium wins don’t happen often for the Aggies.

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