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Eli Lucero, THE HERALD JOURNAL
Utah State wide receiver Ron'Quavion Tarver runs into the end zone for a touchdown against New Mexico during in Logan, Utah.

Here's five keys to Utah State's 2017 football season:

Key stretch

David Zalubowski, AP
Colorado State quarterback Collin Hill, right, looks to pass Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, in Fort Collins, Colo.

Coming off of a three-win season, every game is a big game for the Aggies if they’re going to regain bowl-eligibility status in 2017. But after playing three of its first four games on the road, Utah State returns home for three straight contests against BYU (Sept. 29), Colorado State (Oct. 7) and Wyoming (Oct. 14). While winning all three games is too much for USU fans to hope for, picking up a couple victories between an in-state rival and two tough Mountain Division foes on their home turf — where they were nearly unbeatable in the early years following the program’s move to the Mountain West — would certainly go a long ways toward signaling a return to the Aggies’ winning form of recent seasons.

X-factor

Jeff Hunter
New USU offensive coordinator and quaterbacks coach David Yost runs a drill during the Aggies' first spring football practice Tuesday morning at the Stan Laub Indoor Training Center in Logan.

While the Utah State football program is certainly used to having to adjust to new offensive coordinators over the past few years, new offensive coordinator David Yost is hardly just a new face on the coaching staff. Yost, who was Gary Pinkel’s OC at Missouri from 2009-12 before spending time helping guide extremely prolific offenses at Washington State and Oregon, is bringing a whole new look to Logan with a “high-volume” spread offense. While big changes also come with an adjustment period of a year or two, Matt Wells certainly doesn’t have that luxury — the Aggies need to get back on track this season or he won’t be back at his alma mater in 2018. But if the current crop of USU athletes ends up being right for Yost’s system, it might just provide the kind of kickstart the program needs after missing out on a bowl game last season for the first time in six years.

Playmaker

The Aggie offense never really got on track last season after senior running back Devante Mays was injured in the second game of the year at USC. One of the few bright spots, however, was the emergence of wide receiver Ron'quavion Tarver, who led all Aggie receivers in catches (46), receiving yards (602 yards) and touchdowns (three). The 6-foot-3, 215-pound JUCO transfer is now a junior, and he will certainly be the No. 1 target of USU quarterbacks this season. Tarver, who is coincidentally sporting a No. 1 jersey after wearing No. 19 last year, turned 24 of his 46 receptions into first downs in 2016.

To be determined

The downside of being blessed with a lot of experience up front last year is that both the offensive line and the defensive line are both relatively raw heading into 2017. While the O-line lost standouts in Austin Albrecht, Jake Simonich and Austin Stephens, the D-line is without the likes of Ricky Ali’ifua, Edmund Faimolo, Travis Seefeldt and Siua Taufa. Preston Brooksby and KJ Uluave return on offense, which will likely also rely heavily on junior transfers Quin Ficklin, Roman Andrus and Rob Castaneda. Senior Ian Togiai started at defensive end last season, while juniors Adewale Adeoye and Gasetoto Schuster and sophomores Mohelika Uasike, Christopher ‘Unga and Jacoby Wildman will be competing for time on the line.

Top newcomer

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While BYU transfer Quin Ficklin all but locked up USU’s starting center spot with a strong spring, and Lehi High tight end Carson Terrell looks quite at home at the Division I level, it’s Jordan Nathan who has really been turning heads during fall camp. A 5-9, 175-pound track star out of Monrovia, California, Nathan redshirted last season and appears to be a great fit at slotback in Yost’s offensive system. Should Nathan emerge as an Aggie playmaker this year, it would go a long ways to taking the sting out of Rayshad Lewis’ decision to transfer to Maryland last spring.