LOGAN — Utah State's 2010 football season presents both promise and dread.
On one hand, the Aggies showed all sorts of improvement a year ago. With a second offseason to grasp Gary Andersen's system and 20 returning starters, USU should be in a position to take yet another step toward respectability and a possible bowl game.
On the other hand, Utah State is — for now — being left behind as the Western Athletic Conference breaks up and the Aggies have an uncertain future to try to build.
"Our leadership is definitely grown. There is a lot of things that I believe the kids take care of the tempo in practice and a lot of the things the coaches a year ago had to take care of," Andersen said. "I think the kids are starting to identify and understand what we believe is a big-time Division I coachable practice, and they handle themselves."
Utah State will also have plenty of motivation as it rides through what may be the last real season the WAC has as a football conference. After a trio of conferencemates — Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada — bolted for the Mountain West, the Aggies would like nothing more than to send those teams packing with a firm kick in the tail as a going-away present.
"We have enough talent and experience coming back," Andersen said, "that would should be able to move forward."
But USU's quest to reach a bowl game took a significant hit during the offseason when star running back Robert Turbin suffered a torn ACL that will likely cost him the entire season. Veteran receiver Stanley Morrison, likewise, will spend the season on the sidelines after a freak diving-board accident at a pool left him with a potentially career-ending foot injury.
But not all is lost in Logan. Senior quarterback Diondre Borel returns after a breakout season as a junior. He's bulked up and, Andersen said, is ready to take a huge step forward as a team leader.
Senior running backs Michael Smith and Derrvin Speight, though not Turbin, could combine to soften the loss with sophomore Kerwynn Williams providing a change of pace spark.
"The running backs," Andersen said, "I think all three of those young men when you sit down and look at Michael (Smith), you look at Derrvin (Speight) and you look at Kerwynn (Williams); they're all different. But the biggest thing I will say about Kerwynn is he is bigger and his ability to block has improved and he has kept his speed. So I think that those three kids have done a very nice job."
On defense, the Aggies need to show some rapid improvement at stopping the ball and preventing opponents from scoring points.
Junior linebacker Bobby Wagner is a game-changer with speed and power. He made dramatic improvement a year ago as a sophomore, and Andersen said he expect to see that again. He's joined by veterans like Matt Ah You (BYU transfer), Junior Keiaho, Devin Johnson and Walter McClenton in USU's deepest defensive position.
The defensive line is a work in progress, and Andersen has taken a personal roll in its development.
"It is an area where we have got to work every single day. It is not a matter of want to, it is not a manner of hard work, it is just simply a matter of we need to take the next step and make plays as a defensive line," Andersen said. "If you go back and you look at the number of plays that we made as a D-line last year, it's very low, which puts pressure on safeties that need to make plays, it leads to big plays; it leads to a lot of defense that doesn't end up getting played very well. I am proud of the way the kids worked in the offseason. We definitely made strides."
Conference football affiliation
*USU did not play in 1893-95, 1897
^USU did not play in 1918
#USU did not play in 1943