Keith Johnson, Deseret News
Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series on Utah State University's athletic program. Today we take a look at Aggie football.
LOGAN — Two years into the Gary Andersen Era at Utah State University, the Aggies remain extremely optimistic that they're on the right course to finally get their football program headed back in the right direction again.
Yes, extremely optimistic indeed considering they've posted back-to-back 4-8 seasons in Andersen's first two years at the USU helm.
But Andersen has a game plan in place to resurrect a long-struggling program which hasn't had a winning season since 1996.
"I feel very good about our progression," said Andersen. "When I first took this job, you always think it's a good job. But there's no doubt in my mind this is a tremendous place to live and to coach, and I'm very, very excited about the future here.
"Our university president and athletic director have delivered on everything they promised when I took the job. Now we've got to do our job and go out and win more football games.
"It's been a tough two years for our coaches and a grind for the kids, but they're fighting every single day," Andersen said. "And I believe we're making strides and we're looking forward to the future."
After taking the USU job, Andersen focused his off-the-field attention on three main areas that he felt needed improvement when it came to Utah State's student-athletes.
First, they needed to try and recruit more in-state athletes into the program, and that number has risen dramatically from 18 to 60 in his 2 1/2 years on the job. Second, he felt like the Aggies needed to establish a way to better implement the use of LDS missionaries into the football program, and now there are 30-plus missionaries that are either currently serving missions or are preparing to return from missionary service. And third, they wanted to bring more Polynesian players into the program, and now that number is around 30.
Andersen says the USU administration has shown they believe in him and his plan to turn this thing around.
"The commitment they've given me after two years, they had enough faith in me to give me a brand new six-year deal, and now we'll be able to go out and recruit with that commitment behind us, it is just tremendous," he said.
"Things are ever changing in college football, but with the community we have, the university we have and the administration we have, I know this school will always be in a quality conference. We have too much to offer."
Now that the powerhouse Boise State program has left the Western Athletic Conference for the Mountain West Conference, Andersen says the door is open for somebody else to step to the forefront in the WAC.
And next year, three more current WAC schools — Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii — will follow in Boise State's footsteps and head for the MWC as well, throwing things wide open for someone to become the new WAC kingpin.
So why, Andersen asks, can't that someone be Utah State?
"We got rid of the best team (BSU) so now we've got a chance," he said. "There's gonna be a new champion this year, absolutely. There's Nevada, there's Fresno State, there's Hawaii and there's the rest of the pack trying to earn respect, trying to move into contention in November and get to a bowl game.
"Is there more of an opportunity with the most dominant team in league gone? Yes.
"But at the end of the day, this is still a quality league this year and I believe it's going to be a quality league moving forward with the addition of Texas-San Antonio and Texas State," Andersen said. "I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised with the competitive level of this league."
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