The Star-Tribune is taking an early look at each of Wyoming’s opponents in the order they appear on the Cowboys’ 2019 schedule. Next up is Utah State.
LARAMIE — For years, everybody in the Mountain West has been chasing Boise State.
Since the Broncos joined the league as part of realignment in 2011, they’ve won more games than anybody with six double-digit win seasons during that span. Boise State has shared or outright won three MW championships and has finished tops in the Mountain Division three of the last five years.
Yet the Broncos could be underdogs in the division this fall.
Utah State emerged as Boise State’s biggest threat last season, earning a share of the Mountain Division title by matching the Broncos’ 7-1 record in league play. With many of the players that spearheaded their breakout season back, the Aggies could be the team Boise State, Wyoming and the four other division members are aiming for in Gary Andersen’s return to Utah State’s sideline.
Andersen is back for his second stint as the Aggies’ coach after Matt Wells parlayed Utah State’s 11-win season into the head coaching job at Texas Tech. Andersen, who led Utah State to a pair of bowl berths from 2009-12, will lead the Aggies against Wyoming when the Cowboys travel to Logan, Utah, on Nov. 16.
One of the reasons expectations are still high for the Aggies is the return of Jordan Love, who will once again be at the controls after a breakout sophomore season in which he operated the nation’s second-highest scoring offense. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound quarterback completed 64 percent of his passes for 3,567 yards and 32 touchdowns with just six interceptions last season, making him a legitimate MW Preseason Offensive Player of the Year candidate.
The Aggies have to replace multiple contributors along the offensive line along with 1,000-yard rusher Darwin Thompson, though Gerold Bright (888 yards, 10 rushing TDs) is in line to take over as the primary ball carrier after splitting carries with Thompson a season ago. Alfred Edwards and Demytrick Ali’Ifua are linemen that got reps last season and will be expected to take on more expanded roles up front.
The Aggies are losing their top five receivers, but there are still some experienced targets for Love out wide. Jordan Nathan is back after recording 28 receptions with three receiving touchdowns last season while Savon Scarver, who doubles as a kick returner, should take on a bigger role with his speed.
Most of Utah State’s experience is on the other side of the ball with seven defensive starters returning, including a pair of MW Preseason Defensive Player of the Year candidates at linebacker. David Woodward returns after racking up a league-high 134 tackles last season while edge rusher Tipa Galeai is back after proving to be one of the MW’s most disruptive defenders, notching 14 tackles for loss and a league-high 10.5 sacks on his way to second-team all-MW honors.
Senior defensive end Fua Leilua is back after playing in all 13 games last season while senior cornerback DJ Williams returns to anchor the secondary after leading the team with 11 pass breakups and tying for the team lead in interceptions (4). They’ll try to help Utah State push for the division title outright this fall in its bid for its first MW championship game appearance since 2013.