In Cache Valley, the cleats have been clacking and the pads have been popping as football prepares to shine under the Maverick Stadium lights. In preparation for Utah State’s 2018 season, and tipoff at Michigan State on Aug. 31, here are three things to know in three different categories.
Players to watch
- Jordan Love. Yes, Chuckie Keeton is on the sideline, but this time with a visor and a clipboard, so don’t mind him. Rather, pay attention to sophomore Love, who will be lining up under center as the quarterback for the Aggies. Love took over the starting QB job midseason last fall, ending with eight touchdowns to six interceptions, but is hoping a summer of workouts,fall camp as “the guy,” and the experience of a year will accelerate his growth and improvement. A key luxury Love will enjoy in 2018 is that all five starting offensive linemen will return to form a veteran wall.
- Ron’Quavion Tarver, Jordan Nathan, Dax Raymond. This is the returning trio who combined for nearly 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. Tarver is the big, physical receiver on the outside while Nathan is the speedy, all-purpose, slot-like athlete. Raymond, a tight end, is a guy to especially monitor because of his size (6-foot-5) but also his speed and athleticism. By the end of 2017, whispers of an NFL prospect started to gain traction for Raymond. Helping his cause is that Matt Wells' offense has loved deploying tight ends in the middle of the field, so it’s easy to foresee Raymond becoming Love’s best friend.
- Tipa Galeai. Admittedly, it’s the defensive side of the ball that will provide the question marks, specifically a secondary that is young. A decent linebacking core returns, but it’s Galeai that offers the intrigue. Galeai is a transfer from TCU, where he recorded 24 total tackles, including 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss in his sophomore season as a Horned Frog. Out of high school, Galeai was ranked as the No. 5 defensive end for the state of Texas, so the potential is there to be a pass rushing specialist. As a side note, his brother, Salanoa, was a long snapper for the Aggies in 2014.
Three games to be excited about
- Sept. 22 vs. Air Force. Why? An evening with the pristine mountain backdrop and fall temperatures makes a day in Logan fun enough, but add in an opponent that always brings its best game and this is a can’t miss. This is also the conference home-opener, which will set the tone for the year on how the Aggies fare in their division. What should you wear? Maverick Stadium will be a whiteout.
- Oct. 5 at BYU. The in-state rivalry for the Old Wagon Wheel has been relatively even in the last decade, as the two teams of blue are split 2-2 in the last four years. Expect a few rowdy rows in LaVell’s house to help the Aggies go for two straight. It’s BYU, so this is a can’t miss game.
- Oct. 13 vs. UNLV (homecoming). Much like the game versus Air Force, a date with football in early October combined with all the homecoming festivities is an atmosphere for football fans, families, alumni and current students alike.
Three Mountain West storylines to follow
- Will Boise State be the potential New Year’s Six contender again? Coming off a Las Vegas Bowl win over Oregon last December, the Broncos are poised to be in the driver’s seat for an invite to the big bowls in 2018 as the Group of Six darling. It helps when the best quarterback in the conference, Brett Rypien, returns as a senior and nine defensive starters are back for another round, too. Sports Illustrated even went so far as to peg this Smurf Turf team as the best since 2011, when Boise State finished eighth overall in the polls. An early date with Oklahoma State will be its biggest non-conference opponent (Sept. 15) and the true test to its high hopes.
- How will Wyoming fare after a wonderful year, but having lost Josh Allen to the NFL? It could be argued that Allen underwhelmed while leading the Cowboys as a senior in 2017, but he still turned into a seventh overall selection in the NFL draft (to the Buffalo Bills). Does Wyoming have a capable replacement to help the team stand pat as a Mountain West threat? After back-to-back winning seasons, the fans in Laramie are curious about what kind of team and season this brings now that their highly-touted leader is in the big leagues.
- Can Hawaii find a pulse? Flash back nearly 10 years ago and Hawaii was in the Sugar Bowl, eventually losing to powerhouse Georgia. Since then, Hawaii has had seven losing seasons, including a three-win season last year and a one-win season under its belt. Is there internal development or hope on the horizon? Will coaching changes make a difference? As an outsider, the island beaches and pictures are golden, but the state of football in Hawaii looks a drastic contrast.