OFFENSIVE STAR: Emmett White has been a star on the special teams during his first two years (10th in the nation in punt returns in '99), earning all-Big West honors last year. He takes over for departed Demario Brown, who was simply the best running back in Aggie history. White has average speed (4.5 in 40), but an uncanny knack for avoiding tackles, and the new Aggie coaches are very high on the ex-Ben Lomond star, who will get the ball in his hands a lot as a runner, receiver and returner.
PLAYER ON THE SPOT — OFFENSE: Jeff Crosbie has shown he has all the tools to be an excellent quarterback with a strong arm, quick feet and the ability to read defenses. However last year after a good start, Crosbie lost his confidence after a pair of tough midseason losses and was never the same. With the new complex passing offense, Crosbie will be the guy counted on to make the Aggie offense go.
DEFENSIVE ANCHOR: Brent Passey is a two-time all-Big West performer who did it all for the Aggies last year. He led the team in tackles with 142, he intercepted two passes and also forced three fumbles. He'll be even more in the thick of the action this year, having moved to middle linebacker to replace an injured Tony Newson.
PLAYER ON THE SPOT — DEFENSE: Tony Walker may be the most talented player on the team. The junior cornerback has played a bunch in his first two years, and he'll be counted on to be leader of a young secondary as well as be a main return man. He only has three interceptions in two years and will want to improve that total this year.
SPECIAL TEAMS STAR: Brad Bohn was one of the lone bright spots two years ago when he connected on 24 of 28 field goals, which ranked him second in the nation. Last year, Bohn struggled and made just 12 of 26 field goals, but Bohn and his coaches are confident he'll return to his 1998 form.
SCHEDULING QUIRK: The Aggies' Big West schedule will be complete when Division I-AA Idaho State comes to Logan on Nov. 18. Betcha both teams will be real excited for that one, not to mention the fans in Logan.
KEY STRETCH: The Aggies are picked to finish last by the league coaches and several publications, but they have a chance to get off a quick start in Big West with a favorable schedule. They open at North Texas, picked to finish near the bottom of the league, and follow with two home games against Arkansas State and Idaho. If the Aggies can win those three, they'll have confidence going into the last two games against the league favorites, Boise State and New Mexico State, with a chance to win the league title.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: The Aggies figure to beat their two I-AA opponents, Idaho State and Southern Utah, although the T-Birds will give them all they can handle. They open against Texas Tech, a low-level Big 12 team breaking in a new coach, and later play Arizona State, which was crushed by another Big West school, New Mexico State last year. Then come back-to-back games against in-state rivals Utah and BYU, whom the Aggies have been competitive with in recent years. None of those four are unwinnable like some games the past couple of years, and the Ags could win two of those four. With at least three wins in league play, the Aggies would finish 7-4, a fine start indeed for coach Mick Dennehy and would mark only the second time in 20 years for an Aggie team to reach the 7-win mark.
THEN AGAIN . . .: The Ags could lose at Texas Tech, get stunned by Southern Utah at home and lose confidence in a hurry with consecutive games against Arizona State, Utah and BYU. Then comes the Big West schedule, where the Aggies could lose all five, at least according to experts who have picked them for last. At that point, the Ags would need a win against Idaho State the final week to put a "W" on their record.
"MUST WIN" TO KEEP ALUMNI HAPPY: Even though the coaches and players all talk about winning the league title, a win over either Utah or BYU will keep the fans happy for long time. John L. Smith's consecutive wins over Utah in the late '90s gave Aggie fans something to brag about for a couple of years. This year's "must win" will come in the second week against Southern Utah. A loss to SUU will make for an awfully long season in Logan.
CRYSTAL BALL SAYS: The Aggies will be better than a lot of folks believe, and they won't finish in the Big West cellar as predicted. Mick Dennehy and his staff weren't exactly left with an empty cupboard, and their coaching ability may get more out of the players they inherited from Dave Arslanian. With a more manageable schedule, the Aggies should at least match last year's 4-7 record and end up in the middle of the Big West standings, and if things go right, they may finish 5-6 or 6-5.
USU Aggies by the numbers
Home schedule strength 4
Road schedule strength 7
Offensive talent 5
Defensive talent 6
Special teams talent 7
Prospect of winning conference title 3
Chances of going bowling 3
UTAH STATE UNIVERSITY
Conference: Big West — 1999 Record: 4-7 — Conference Finish: 3-3 (T-3rd)
Utah State 2000 schedule
Sep. 2 at Texas Tech, 7:00 pm
Sep. 9 Southern Utah, 9:05 pm
Sep. 23 at Arizona St, TBA
Sep. 30 Utah, 5:05 pm
Oct. 6 at Byu, 9:00 pm
Oct. 14 at North Texas, 3:35 pm
Oct. 21 Idaho, 5:05 pm
Oct. 28 Arkansas St, 5:05 pm
Nov. 4 at New Mexico St, 8:00 pm
Nov. 11 at Boise St, 3:05 pm
Nov. 18 Idaho St, 5:05 pm