Editor's note: This is part one of a three-part series regarding the FBS matchups of the 2013 Beehive State college football season.
Utah had won 12 straight against USU in the series. It hadn't looked and felt like a rivalry for years. This fact was compounded with the Utes headed to the Pac-12 and the Aggies only having one more year in a depleted WAC. Nobody in Salt Lake thought a Utah-Utah State game would be a contest.
Then Gary Andersen pulled magic out of his visor.
Last year's game in Logan was sloppy, intense and laced with drama. Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn got knocked out of the game for good. Utah State never trailed. John Hayes almost rallied the Utes to victory but came up glaringly short. The little brother sprung the upset and stunned the Utes in the first overtime game in the 100-plus-year-old series.
It was quite memorable overall. The Aggies used the victory to springboard themselves to an 11-2 finish while the Utes just missed bowl eligibility.
The kickoff of the first Utah college football game of the season is only days away, so let's break down what we will see in the games between the in-state schools this season.
Sam McConkie is a technical and professional writing graduate from Utah State University. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
After a disappointing 5-7 finish last season, the Utes will want to get back into the winning column and start their season off on the right foot. At Pac-12 media days, Kyle Whittingham stated: “Going to the Pac-12, we knew it was going to be a transition and a process and a work in progress, I guess you could say,” and that “we’re excited to get the season underway and get on track and win ballgames like we’re used to.”
A few starters return, but there are plenty of question marks for Whittingham to solve. Here are a few key players to keep an eye on.
Travis Wilson, now with a bit more experience and finesse, returns as the Utes' starting quarterback. Back-ups Adam Schulz and Brandon Cox may see snaps, but Whittingham has stated the job is Travis's to lose. Expect him to air out the ball just a bit more under Dennis Erickson's new up-tempo system.
Wide receivers Kenneth Scott and Dres Anderson also return. They are expected to lead the receiving core this year in a new offensive system, and they have stated their goal is to combine for at least 100 catches. They could be a dangerous pair if Wilson can get the ball to them.
Defensively, Trevor Reilly, Tenny Palepoi and Nate Orchard will help anchor the line with Jason Whittingham, though his current injury will likely keep him from playing at the start of the season. The Utes traditionally have solid defenses, so I expect nothing less this year.
Without question, replacing NFL first round draft pick Star Lotulelei will be tough. Teams game-planned around him, and his Herculean strength allowed him to stop runners dead in their tracks. Expect Tenny Palepoi to fill in the gap at defensive tackle.
Brothers Joe and Dave Kruger are also off and about in the NFL. Their production will be sorely missed if good replacements don't step up and fill their shoes.
John White racked up more than 1,000 yards rushing last season, and he was the first Utah running back to put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Kelvin York is the likely replacement, but the "Wolfman" will be missed if York doesn't step up.
Matt Wells, former offensive coordinator and now Utah State head coach, will seek to keep the momentum from last season going. Some of the original staff is back, such as linebackers coach Kevin Clune and wide receivers coach Jovon Bouknight. A few new mix-ins have arrived in defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and offensive line coach Mark Weber.
Wells expressed plenty of enthusiasm at Mountain West media days about how he feels his team can compete. “Defense wins championships and we feel we’re going to be very good defensively again this season,” Wells said. “The defense leads this team, but I also think we have a lot of potential offensively, and it all starts with Chuckie Keeton. He’s very good, obviously, and I think he’s done the work necessary to be that much better. We’re excited for this season and excited for our opportunities in the Mountain West Conference.”
The Aggies return their entire offensive line from last season, which includes the Rimington award nominee Tyler Larsen. Jamie Markosian, Eric Schultz and the Whimpey brothers round out an experienced, strong line with more than 120 combined starts between them.
Quarterback Chuckie Keeton returns for his junior season. He set multiple records in passing, rushing and touchdowns last season for the Aggies. Expect him to do some damage to opposing defenses as long as his line protects him.
Defensively, linebackers Kyler Fackrell, Jake Doughty and Zach Vigil return from a defense that ranked seventh in scoring defense last season. If they can continue racking up the tackles and sacks, expect another strong performance this year.
Similarly to the Utes, the Aggies must replace an All-Star in Kerwynn Williams. He rushed for more than 1,500 yards and scored more than 20 touchdowns. Joe Hill is the expected starter this fall, but can he match Williams' production?
Defensively, the Aggies must find new guys to fill in for linebacker Bojay Filimoeatu, lineman Al Lapuaho, cornerback Will Davis and safety McKade Brady — not an easy task by any means. Nevin Lawson is expected to step up in Davis' place.
The Utes want revenge, and the Aggies will seek to prove last season was no fluke. Both teams lose a fair amount of production, more so for the Utes, but both also return proven players and strong talent on both sides of the ball.
As the first game of the year, expect a hard-fought, sloppy and energetic contest. The team with the fewest mistakes will likely win this one, and it will be close.