A year later, Utah State’s signing class and overall situation couldn’t be more different
The Aggies were in complete rebuild mode this time last year. Not so much this time around
On Feb. 1 last year — national signing day in 2023 — Utah State football was in complete rebuild mode.
The Aggies had lost numerous players to the NCAA transfer portal throughout the offseason, including 10 starters, a number that ultimately ballooned to 36 total players leaving the program.
As a result, Blake Anderson and company had to put together a signing class to all but remake the program on the fly. They did, too, adding an unprecedented 42 players, but the roster upheaval left the Aggies vulnerable.
Anderson stated many times during the 2023 season, what ended up a second-straight 6-7 campaign, that the program should almost be considered as being in Year One of his coaching tenure in Logan. Such was the state of the program.
Little continuity, little momentum and a whole lot of improvement needed.
On Wednesday, national signing day in 2024, Utah State’s football program looks to be in a markedly different position.
The Aggies announced their 2024 signing class Wednesday morning, 30 players in total, from the high school, junior college and FBS ranks.
All told, the Aggies added six high school athletes, 10 junior college transfers and 14 FBS transfers, from both the Power Five and Group of Five ranks.
Of those 30 players, 21 are currently enrolled at Utah State for the 2024 spring semester, the rest expect to join the team in time for summer workouts.
Only one, Corner Canyon High standout Tate Kjar, is potentially deferring in order to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Nineteen of Utah State’s signees are rated — by 247 Sports, On3 Sports, Rivals or ESPN — as at least three-star recruits, with three players being rated as a four-star recruit.
Most notably, though, all 30 signees are seen as upgrades, added depth or potential long-term development projects. Few are the desperately needed additions in order to simply field a team that so many signees were a year ago.
Those days are gone for the Aggies — for now at least — after USU lost only one player off its two-deep chart to the transfer portal, safety Devin Dye.
“Having lost 10 starters a year ago that would’ve helped us compete, we saw what that looks like,” Anderson said. “This year we lost one player out of the entire two-deep. There are other guys who entered the portal, but all of those guys transferred down levels to get on the field and play more and we helped as many as we could find homes. It is much different than a year ago.”
The biggest reason for that, of course, was Utah State’s success in recruiting its own roster. The Aggies managed to hold onto most of their star players this offseason, despite many being recruited elsewhere.
“We had a handful of guys being actively recruited and offered money to leave in the NIL space so I feel very fortunate that we were able to hold that together,” Anderson said, before going on to praise the efforts of the Blue A Collective.
“We didn’t do that alone,” he added.
Keeping those players, guys like Ike Larsen, Anthony Switzer, Jalen Royals and others, allowed USU to recruit a varied collection of players, who, per Anderson, can come in and “play around them, in front of them, behind them and in some cases push them, to make them better and relieve some of the work load.”
“That (retaining USU’s stars) was a huge piece,” Anderson said. “And it started before the season was over. Several weeks left in the season, sitting down with a dozen or more of our players. Some of these guys were offered really significant money. We feel really fortunate to keep them here. It was huge to be able to look at what we had, the guys that played well, knowing they are coming back and then to be able to bring in complements.”
Among those complementary players are 14 FBS transfers, including a couple of former Utah Utes in quarterback Bryson Barnes and safety Jadon Pearson. Anderson expects that all of the transfers “could all come in and impact the team right now. (They will) compete for jobs, starting jobs potentially and definitely be significant role players that help us be competitive next fall.”
The Aggies prioritized defense in the class, signing 18 defenders, at all three levels of the defense.
Per Anderson, those additions — plus new staff, including defensive coordinator Nate Dreiling — are the kind and caliber to effect meaningful change on that side of the ball, a major need for the Aggies after a dismal 2023 season defensively,
“We are all aware that was where our biggest need was,” Anderson said. “We needed to make an impact on the defensive side of the ball. And I feel like we’ve done that in every room. All guys needed to compete at our level.”
Anderson and company went heavy on immediate contributors, with 80% of the class being comprised of either FBS transfers or junior college transfers, at the expense of high school developmental prospects.
Anderson cited that being the new norm for college football — “I’m not sure that is going to be different moving forward,” he said. “You do what you have to do to build the roster and be as competitive as you can be” — plus USU’s difficult schedule in 2024 making a quick influx in talent vital.
Add in the experienced returners, and Utah State’s 2024 signing class couldn’t be more different than 2023. It is a signing class designed to propel the Aggies to Mountain West Conference title contention, rather than just keep the program’s head above water.
“Completely different problem than what we had a year ago,” Anderson said. “And I’m hoping it will carry over to the fall and shows us to be a more talented football team.”