Ranking Utah State’s games from toughest to easiest

By Trent Wood
Players from the Utah State Aggies and the UConn Huskies push one another after a dead play at the Maverik Stadium in Logan on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022. The Aggies won 31-20.Ben B. Braun, Deseret News
How will the 2023 college football season pan out for Utah State?
Your guess is as good as Blake Anderson’s.
The Aggies’ head coach made that clear at Mountain West media days.
“Nobody knows what they got right now,” Anderson told KSL Sports. “The people that are ranking don’t know. We got 39 new scholarship players on our roster. I have no idea what kind of football team we have. Neither does anybody else.”
It was that kind of offseason for Utah State.
Before even the end of the 2022 season, the Aggies started losing players to the transfer portal. And losing players. And losing players.
Since then, though, Anderson and company have rallied, adding the aforementioned 39, 30 of whom are four-year transfers or from the JUCO ranks.
Simple put, the 2023 Aggies won’t look much like the 2022 Aggies, who didn’t look all that much like the 2021 Aggies, who didn’t look like the 2020 Aggies.
In the modern era of college football, change — dramatic change — seems the only constant.
So Anderson and the Aggies did what they had to to adapt this offseason.
“We have attacked the portal in the most strategic way we can with where we’re at,” Anderson told Bridget Howard and Jesse Kurtz of the Mountain West Network. “We won the championship Year 1 by allowing a great COVID senior class and a really good transfer class to gel.
“We did not have the success with that last year. Injuries played a big factor, but this year with the attrition, NIL, all of the things that happen, it’s a little bit larger of a number.”
The Aggies themselves won’t be the only new-look thing in 2023.
Competition will be different in the Mountain West this season, with divisions done away with.
A casualty of that change is the loss of Wyoming on the schedule, but by the look of things the Aggies will have no shortage of quality opponents.
Here’s our “most-difficult-opponent-for-Utah State” rankings for 2023:
1. At Iowa
Utah State plays one opponent from a Power Five conference this season, the Iowa Hawkeyes, on the road in the season opener. The Aggies traditionally haven’t fared well in road games against P5 opponents, though USU is 1-1 in said games under Anderson with a win at Washington State and a loss at Alabama.
Iowa will be no easy task as the Hawkeyes have been consistently good to great under long-time head coach Kirk Ferentz, winning six or more games every year since 2013, and in 21 of the last 22 seasons.
The Hawkeyes are projected to have one of, if not the best defenses in all of college football, are expected to contend for the Big Ten West division title (Iowa received 16 first place votes, finishing just behind Wisconsin), and have a notable new quarterback in Michigan transfer Cade McNamara.
Iowa is dealing with a on-going sports wagering scandal that includes members of the football program, which Ferentz addressed at Big Ten media days.
“It’s not a large number of players, period,” he said. “... I’m hopeful this is an opportunity with the NCAA to maybe reconsider two things: what the, quote/unquote, punishments or penalties might be that are, I would say, fair and relevant to the world we’re living in right now. And then probably the bigger thing is there’s an opportunity right now, I think, for better education process, if you will.”
2. Boise State
The Aggies get to host the Broncos this season, after losing in Boise 42-23 last year. Boise State has had Utah State’s number over the years, winning 22 out of 27 matchups, including seven straight.
The Broncos are the preseason favorite to win the Mountain West Conference this year, and are projected to win between eight and nine games by ESPN, with a 74.5% chance of beating the Aggies.
With Taylen Green at quarterback the Broncos have arguably the most dynamic player in the conference and head coach Andy Avalos and company are confident that they have or will shore up weakness along both the offensive and defensive lines, to say nothing of the Broncos’ defense as a whole, which lost multiple stars to the pros.
“Extremely excited about where our team is at,” Avalos told Bronco Nation News’ BJ Rains at Mountain West media days. “... You want guys going on and getting shots to play in the NFL. That is what you want to happen. And now we have a fresh group of guys who have a willingness to learn. We have young guys who have some miles that need to be put on their legs and that is what we intend to do.”
3. At Air Force
During the Troy Calhoun era, Air Force has consistently competed at or near the top of the MW. Things have taken a turn for the better recently, though, as the Falcons have won 10 or more games in three of the last four seasons.
The Aggies, however, have beaten Air Force in each of the last two meetings. Can Utah State make it three straight? The Falcons were picked to finish second in the MW behind Boise State, and were one of only five teams to receive a first place vote.
Moreover, Air Force, returns an experienced defense and has a 72.7% chance of beating Utah State, according to ESPN’s projections.
The Falcons do have to replace quarterback Haaziq Daniels and fullback Brad Roberts, which Calhoun believes will be difficult, going so far as to compare this upcoming season to the 2013 season, when Air Force when just 2-10 overall.
“That year was a real challenge,” Calhoun said at MW media days. “That may be the case with where we are now, too.”
4. Fresno State
The Bulldogs were the best team in the MW last season, winning 10 games and the conference title, only to cap things off with a victory over Washington State in the LA Bowl.
Historically, Utah State has fared well against Fresno State, at least recently, winning three of the last four meeting, including two on the road.
The Bulldogs are expected to beat the Aggies this time around — ESPN gives Fresno State a 62.9% chance.
Fresno State has some serious questions to answer entering the season, though particularly at quarterback when it comes to finding Jake Haener’s successor.
Per head coach Jeff Tedford, that is the No. 1 question for Fresno State and will come down to a three-way battle between Logan Fife, Josh Wood and UCF transfer Mikey Keene.
“Start at the quarterback position,” Tedford said at MW media days.
Per Action News’ Stephen Hicks and Alec Nolan, Tedford believes the current version of Fresno State is more competitive all-around then last year, which is saying something.
5. James Madison
Picked to finish first in the East division of the Sun Belt Conference, ahead of both Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina, James Madison is arguably the most interesting of the Aggies’ non-conference opponents this year.
A former FCS powerhouse that transitioned to the FBS ranks last season, the Dukes didn’t miss a beat, winning eight games last season while being ineligible to play in a bowl.
Expectations are higher this season, win the Sun Belt championship higher, though James Madison must first find a quarterback.
“The quarterback position is wide open,” James Madison head coach Curt Cignetti said at Sun Belt media days, per The Daily News Record, before expressing extreme confidence about whomever the team lands on.
“Every year we’ve been at James Madison, we’ve led the conference in scoring, and all three of our quarterbacks have been player of the year in our conference,” Cignetti said.
The Aggies host James Madison, though ESPN considers this year’s contest a near toss-up, favoring the Aggies at 52.7% percent.
6. At San Diego State
It might be a little surprising to see the Aztecs this far down the list considering Utah State has to travel to San Diego and the Aztecs are regularly one of the best teams in the MW, but this position has more to do with the team’s listed above SDSU than SDSU itself.
The Aztecs should once again be one of the better teams in the MW, and have a legitimate chance to win the conference, though they are not favorite.
ESPN projects SDSU to win between six and seven games in 2023, placing the Aztecs solidly in the middle of the conference.
Utah State traditionally has struggled to win in San Diego, walking away victorious three times in 11 meetings.
Still, the Aggies won on their last trip in 2021 and SDSU doesn’t appear to be quite the powerhouse it has been in recent seasons.
7. At UConn
The Huskies gave Utah State some problems at home in Logan last season and that was in the first year of the Jim Mora Jr. era.
Entering Year 2, UConn is expected to only be better, which means the Aggies trip to Storrs is that much more interesting.
Of all the games on the Aggies’ schedule in 2023, UConn will probably be the bellwether. Win and Utah State likely is a bowl-caliber team. Lose, the Aggies could be in for a long season.
No matter what, Mora believes he can accomplish significant things at UConn, particularly if the Huskies secure an invite to a P5 conference at some point.
“In the NFL, I didn’t achieve my ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl. I got very close but didn’t ever get it done,” Mora told CT Insider. “That bothers me. At this level, I understand where we’re sitting right now. People will look at that statement and say, ‘He’s a fool. Can’t win a national championship at UConn.’ Well, I have to believe that, ultimately. I’m not talking about this year. But we can. And that’s what I’m working towards. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do this.”
8. At San Jose State
The Spartans have been one of the better stories in the MW since head coach Brent Brennan took over, with SJSU even winning the conference in 2020.
The Spartans have taken a slight step back the last couple of years, though, going 5-7 in 2021 and 7-5 in 2022. Throw in the 2019 season, when the SJSU finished 5-7 and the program might have proven to be a solid, if unspectacular program, outside of outlier lightning in a bottle seasons.
This coming season doesn’t appear, at first glance to be likely to be a special campaign for the Spartans, but the Aggies must travel to California and aren’t favored, with ESPN giving SJSU a 65.6% to pull out the win against Utah State.
San Jose State brings back most of its offensive firepower from 2022, but the offensive and defensive lines are serious question marks. Brennan was confident at MW media days that the Spartans will have answers, though.
“I‘m really excited to see what that looks like when we start practicing next week, because they’ve worked incredibly hard this offseason,” he told the Mountain West Network. “And the growth in that group is going to have a lot to say with how we go as a team.”
9. Colorado State
The rebuild in Fort Collins under head coach Jay Norvell was never going to be a single season deal so fittingly the Rams are considered one of the easier opponents on the Aggies schedule.
That doesn’t mean it will be an easy win for the Aggies, though. Remember, Utah State barely defeated CSU last season and by all accounts the Rams should be better in 2023.
The Rams have recruited well early on under Norvell and there is an expectation that before too long CSU will be in contention for the MW championship. Just maybe not this season.
As DNVR’s Justin Michael writes, “One of the reasons that Norvell left Nevada for CSU is because he believes that it can be one that contends for championships and plays in New Year’s Six Bowls. The type of football program that eventually moves up to a bigger conference.”
“That’s why we came to Colorado State,” Norvell told Michael. “And I think we’re on that course.”
10. Nevada
The Wolfpack are in a tough position. Under the aforementioned Norvell, Nevada had its moments, but has since been relegated to being considered one of the worst teams in the MW.
The preseason media poll has the Wolfpack No. 11 in the league, ahead of only New Mexico, and ESPN projects Nevada to win between five and six games, which all things considered wouldn’t be an unsuccessful season.
The Aggies are clear favorites against Nevada, given a 61.4% chance to win by ESPN, and seeing as the game is in Logan, a win over the Wolfpack should be something of an expectation for USU.
11. At New Mexico
Considered the worst team by far in the MW, New Mexico should be another opponent the Aggies can make quick work of, even in a road environment.
The Lobos haven’t won more than three games in a single season since 2016, and in the three years under head coach Danny Gonzalez have won a combined seven games, including just two last season.
New Mexico is one of the hardest jobs in the country and for another year at least it looks like the Aggies can chalk up the meeting as a victory.
Utah State has defeated New Mexico six straight times after all.
12. Idaho State
Utah State knows the hard way that FCS opponents aren’t to be overlooked, after losing at home to Weber State last fall, but Idaho State isn’t Weber State.
The Bengals won just one game last season, against Cal Poly, and otherwise struggled mightily in their one and only year under Charlie Ragle. Cody Hawkins is now the head coach, but it is hard to believe that any major improvement will come Year One.
Per ESPN, Utah State has a 92.7% chance to defeat Idaho State, and that might be selling the Aggies short.

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