LOGAN — This time around Gary Andersen has nowhere to go but down.
When Andersen headed up the road from Utah to Utah State 10 years ago, to become the head coach, the Aggie program was near rock bottom, coming off a 3-9 season under coach Brent Guy. His 6-30 record in three seasons in Logan was the worst three-year stretch, record-wise, in USU football history.
Andersen wasn’t much better in his first year, going 4-8 in 2010 and duplicating that mark the following year. It marked the 12th straight losing season for the moribund Aggie program, which had just two winning seasons between 1980 and 2010.
Then things started to turn around and in 2011, Andersen produced a 7-6 record, including a berth in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, followed by an 11-2 mark in 2012, including a decisive win over Toledo in the same Idaho Bowl and a No. 16 final ranking. It was the first final-season ranking for a USU team since 1961, the end of the Merlin Olsen Era.
Suddenly the Aggie program was flying high and Andersen was a hot commodity and he left to coach one of the premier programs in the country at Wisconsin.
We all know what happened after that. Despite a 19-7 record in two seasons, Andersen became disenchanted with some things in Madison and surprisingly left to take a lesser job at Oregon State. That only lasted 2 1/2 seasons and he left midway through the 2017 season after winning just seven of his 23 games.
Many, perhaps Andersen himself, believed his coaching career was over. He didn’t coach for several months before hooking up with his alma mater and former employer at the University of Utah. Then when Matt Wells produced his own 11-2 season in 2018 and skedaddled out of town to a Power Five conference at Texas Tech, that gave Andersen the opportunity to take his old job back.
While many Aggie fans welcomed Andersen back with open arms, some were not happy about bringing back a coach who had abandoned them six years earlier. But if he can keep the winning ways going, he’ll be forgiven in a hurry.
He’s lost a bunch of standouts from last year’s squad with just nine starters returning, including two on offense.
Everybody knows about Jordan Love, who has made every quarterback preseason watch list including the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm, the Davey O’Brien and Manning watch lists
The only problem is, only one other starter returns from last year’s explosive offense that was second in the nation in scoring and 11th in total offense. Andersen has made his mark as a defensive coach and that side should be fine, but it could take awhile for the offense to get rolling.
The Aggies have a good shot at beating Wake Forest, a team picked to finish near the bottom of the Atlantic Division in the ACC, on Aug. 30, then should breeze by FCS opponent Stony Brook the following week. They have a week off before getting into Mountain West Conference action at San Diego State, always a challenging game. They come back home to face Colorado State before going to the South again to take on LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The Aggies should be 3-2 at that point with losses in two of their road games and then get another bye before playing Nevada at home and Air Force on the road.
Then comes the game many Aggie fans care about more than any other — the in-state clash against BYU. They’ve had the Cougars’ number the past two years and get the Cougars up in Logan this year in the Nov. 2 contest.
A lot will depend on BYU’s standing at that point. If the Cougars have knocked off a couple of those early Power Five opponents and come in with a winning record, they could be hard to handle. On the other hand, if their season is in the toilet with a bunch of losses, the Ags should make it three in a row for the first time since 1973.
The Aggies finish with four MWC games, including a road game at Fresno State and a home game against Boise State, two of the league favorites.
After all those years of losing, Aggie fans expect nothing less than a winning record. Eight wins in his first year back would be a good restart for Andersen, who can stay in Logan for a long time as long as he keeps winning.