LOGAN — The recent past of Utah State University football is not one filled with much glory.
In the past 30 years of football, the Aggies have won more games than they lost exactly twice. The 1993 team, guided by Charlie Weatherbie, went 7-5, and the 1996 John L. Smith-coached Aggies finished with a 6-5 record. The Aggies have not been to a bowl game since the 1997 Humanitarian Bowl, when they fell to Cincinnati 35-19, and you have to go back to the 1993 season to find Utah State's last bowl victory, a 42-33 triumph over Ball State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Under head coach Gary Andersen's regime, the tide has been turning in Logan. In 2009, the Aggies won four games, a mark they had not hit since 2002. The Aggies equaled that win total in an injury-wrecked 2010 season and now are looking to break through to a winning record and a bowl game.
Andersen admits the Aggies are far from being where he would like them to be at this point, especially on the defensive side.
"We've done nothing on gameday to make us be even a respectable defense," Andersen said. "We aren't even close to what I was hoping for after two years of being here. I will say this about the defense this year — I feel real comfortable about our staff."
While Andersen takes responsibility for two seasons that did not meet his expectations, the USU players can see the changes that have been made in the foundation of the team and in the program over the last two seasons.
"Since my freshman year, the defense has progressed a lot," said linebacker Bobby Wagner. "Freshman year we had guys that just kind of ran around. Coach Andersen came and has added more structure to it and we've been building from there. I think we've progressed as far as talent. The talent around the program right now is off the charts. I know my sophomore and junior years we had a lot of talented players but we were still missing pieces. Now we have all the pieces to the puzzle."
The defense returns six starters, but is bigger, faster and stronger at nearly every position. Utah State's defensive line has bulked up with an influx of new recruits, and the defensive backs are much deeper across the board.
The talent level has risen steadily for the Aggies over the last few seasons. Players like Wagner, running back Robert Turbin and offensive lineman Tyler Larsen highlight the starters, but the real development of talent is happening on the second and third teams. The Aggies can survive an injury or two and maintain a similar talent level this season, something they have lacked in the past.
"Coach Andersen and his personality brings a lot of people in," Wagner said about the new recruits.
The Aggies will return 10 starters to the offensive side of the ball, but the one new starter will be at quarterback. Andersen has announced who the starter will be in Week 1 to the team, but will not announce it publicly to try and give the team a leg up on season-opening opponent Auburn.
"The staff and the football team are very comfortable with our quarterback situation. Playing a quality opponent like Auburn, we believe it is important for us to gain every advantage we can. Announcing a starting quarterback could possibly be a disadvantage for our football team," Andersen said.
The Aggies' options will be junior college transfer Adam Kennedy, a big, traditional pro-style quarterback, or true freshman Chuckie Keeton, a dual threat with both his arm and his legs that has impressed the team with his leadership and poise in fall camp.
No matter who plays for the Aggies, the team has one common goal in mind for the season: to reach their first bowl game in 15 years. With former conference rival Boise State off to the Mountain West, the Western Athletic Conference is wide open for all eight teams in the conference.
"We just want to win," safety Walter McClenton said about the team's goals for the season. "The ultimate goal is just to win."
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company