NCAA Football Preview - Utah State Aggies
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From The Sports Network By Ralph Lauro, College Football Staff Writer 2003 SEASON IN REVIEW: After spending the previous two seasons as an Independent, the Utah State Aggies were excited to join Sun Belt Conference in 2003. However, that excitement didn't last long, as the Aggies posted a losing record in league play at 3-4. Overall, the club finished a dismal 3-9, but that wasn't indicative of how it played. Of the team's nine losses, five came by 10 points or less. The 2003 season began with three straight road losses to Utah (40-20), Nebraska (31-7), and Arizona State (26-16) before the Aggies finally came through with a win in their first-ever Sun Belt game, a 28-10 triumph over UL-Monroe. However, the win was short-lived, as Utah State dropped its next three contests, including a 37-27 setback to Sun Belt champion North Texas. The team then posted its two most impressive wins in a 49-0 blanking of Arkansas State and in a 41-20 triumph over Middle Tennessee State. With a shot at a .500 finish still in site the Aggies fell flat on their faces and dropped their remaining three games, including a 20-13 setback to a dismal Idaho club. Utah State finished the 2003 season a decent 3-2 at home, but a dismal 0-7 on the road. 2004 ANALYSIS: OFFENSE: The Aggies ranked 80th in the nation in total offense (350.3 ypg) last year and with only four starters returning things may not get any better this season. The club however, does welcome back player caller Travis Cox, who was the main reason Utah State ranked 41st nationally in passing offense. Cox came through big time for the Aggies last season, throwing for 2,791 yards and 18 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Cox will have to be even better this season with an inexperienced backfield. Ryan Kemp is slated to be the team's starting tailback, but is coming off an injury plagued 2003 season. Kemp will be pushed hard by juco transfer Marc Emmanuel, who ran for 3,273 yards and 20 touchdowns in two seasons at junior college. Raymond Hicks is the team's top wideout returning, but he lacks experience. The former juco transfer has great speed and made 13 catches for 183 yards and a score in 2003. Oregon transfer Tarrell Richards will also be called upon to fill out the WR corps. Up front the Aggies lost three starters from a year ago and will be counting on junior college transfers to join starter Donald Penn and Elliot Tupea. Penn, a 313-pound tackle is considered the best player on the line, while the 311-pound Tupea is another top athlete up front. DEFENSE: On the defensive side of the ball is where the Aggies improved by leaps and bounds last season, going from 111th in the nation in total defense to 45th. Expect an even better performance for the Aggies' defense this season with six returning starters from a year ago. Ronald Tupea and John Chick return to the defensive line after combining for 68 tackles and 10 sacks in 2003. They will be accompanied by Brent Pollock and Michael Gates, a pair tackles that saw significant playing time last season. Robert Watts highlights a linebacker corps that includes the likes of Jared Johnstun and Nate Fredrick. Watts is one of the top linebackers in the Sun Belt after making 203 tacklers over the last two seasons. Johnstun and Frederick are his partners in the middle, accounting for 72 tackles and 4.5 sacks a year ago and should be even more productive this season. In one of the biggest shocks of the Sun Belt season, the Aggies put together a fantastic pass defense that allowed less than 200 yards per game and only 14 touchdown passes while picking off 14 passes in 2003. Returning in the secondary is corner Jerome Dennis, who played in only three games last season with a blood clot is his shoulder, but he has the potential to be an all-conference player. At the other corner will be Cornelius Lamb, who recorded 26 tackles and two passes while filling in for the injured Dennis last season. Free safety Terrance Washington is the heart and soul of the secondary. Washington came up with 93 tackles and a team-best five interceptions in 2003, earning him all-league and freshman All-American honors. He should be even more improved in only his second year of collegiate football. SPECIAL TEAMS: Ben Chaet may handle both kicking duties this season with Justin Hamblin pushing him for the placekicking job. Chaet averaged a solid 40.3 yards per punt last season while also making 3-of-4 field goal attempts. As for Hamblin, he hit on just 1-of-4 field goal attempts last year, but has shown better accuracy and range this spring. OUTLOOK: The Aggies fielded an inexperienced team last season, which explains their losing campaign. Things will be better for them this year with an easier non-conference schedule and the return of several key players. Utah State has enough talent to remain competitive in the SBC, and finishing in the top half isn't out of the question. If the Aggies can duplicate their defensive efforts from last season and show some improvement on offense they should be able to top their three wins from a year ago.