Can the Aggies sneak up and surprise in the MWC?
By all metrics, Utah State is not expected to do very much in 2021. The Aggies have been tabbed to finish fifth in the Mountain Division, only ahead of New Mexico. Almost the entire coaching staff from 2020 has been turned over and an influx of transfer players has given USU’s program a near total facelift. It takes time to gel as a team under these circumstances and there may be some very real on-field struggles this season.
With that being said, don’t count out the Aggies to potentially exceed expectations and turn some heads. Even if they end up having a mediocre season in the win-loss column, USU can spring a few surprises on an unsuspecting team and give the fanbase something to get really excited about headed into 2022.
Here are three bold predictions for USU’s football team this year.
1. Utah State will upset Washington State in the road opener
Admittedly, this is the type of prediction I’ve been making for years to no avail.
Utah State is 0-12 straight up against road P5 teams in the last decade, only half of which were competitive affairs. The Aggies have simply been unable to break through even though they’ve had numerous legitimate opportunities to do so, e.g. 2013 USC, 2013 Utah, 2018 Michigan State, and 2019 Wake Forest, all of which were one-score affairs.
The 2021 version of Washington State plausibly gives the Aggies another chance to score that rare upset. Wazzou is in just their second year with Head Coach Nick Rolovich. The Cougars are coming off a bad season themselves and their QB battle is anything but settled. More tellingly, the Cougar pass defense last season gave up a dismal 307 ypg, almost at the bottom of the NCAA. They can certainly improve of course, but to what extent remains to be seen. On the offensive side of the ball, they’ve also lost their top receiving threat in Renard Bell to a season ending ACL injury. One less weapon means one less dimension to their offense.
— Smooth Criminal (@RenardBell_) July 23, 2021
The recipe is very much here for USU to steal a win on the road. Wazzou has made few if any meaningful changes in their scheme over the off-season. They’ll be missing a couple of explosive players previously being counted on to make big contributions. They are also going to have to game-plan against an Aggie team with a new defense and a pass-heavy attack, so reviewing game film from last season won’t do Wazzou many favors. If Wazzou’s pass defense hasn’t improved significantly, the Aggies can force a shootout and rely on their experienced receivers to deal some damage. It’s a game Wazzou should win, but overlooking USU could be a big miscalculation.
Matchups in this game are surprisingly favorable to the road team, yet minimizing any mistakes will be key to finally walking away with a P5 game check and the victory.
2. Savon Scarver will break the NCAA record for career kick return TDs
Through good and bad times for USU, Savon Scarver has been a consistent bright spot. The senior playmaker has tremendous top end speed and he has the ability to flip the momentum in a game. He won the Jet Award in 2018, which is given to the nation’s best kick returner and he has routinely made top lists for best Special Teams players. He was also named a consensus All-American in 2018.
In his career, he has six kickoff returns for touchdowns. He only needs one more to tie the NCAA record with Houston’s Tyron Carrier and SDSU’s Rashaad Penny. If Scarver gets two kick returns for touchdowns in 2021, he’ll be the only player in NCAA history to have eight in his career. Getting a record like this will not only cement his spot in college football lore, it will almost certainly help vault the Aggies back into a bowl game.
With the backend of the schedule being softer, Scarver is going to have numerous opportunities to claim this record all for himself. By the time the 2021 season comes to an end, I predict he will have eight kickoff return touchdowns. It’s a worthy goal to chase and very attainable.
3. Aggie defense will have four All-Mountain West selections
After having a bad showing in 2020, the Aggie defense is poised for a significant turnaround in 2021.
The Aggies bring back of six of their seven linebackers from last season and also add Arkansas State graduate transfer Justin Rice into the mix. Rice led the FBS in 2020 with 18.5 tackles for loss and has proven himself to be a major disrupter in the backfield with multiple fumbles forced in his career. He was also a standout player for Fresno State in 2019.
AJ Vongphachanh led the team in total tackles in 2020 and looks to have an even bigger role this year. He consistently makes hard tackles and will provide invaluable production. Senior Kevin Meitzenheimer is also poised to be a major contributor in this group and finish his career strong.
On the defensive line, Marcus Moore looks to build on his good performance last year and become the strong run stopper we know he can be. Altogether, I expect the defense as a whole to play more complimentary to each position group and be much more effective in slowing opposing teams down.
By the end of the year, USU is going to have no less than four All-Mountain West selections by the conference. The defense is going to exceed pre-season expectations by a lot and at least a couple of the aforementioned players will be on their way to a home in the NFL.