They have some major holes to fill, a lot of new faces and didn’t get any favors from the Mountain West schedule makers, but you’ll have a hard time finding anybody from the Utah State football team putting out anything but positive vibes going into this makeshift 2020 season.

To wit, USU coach Gary Andersen describes this week as “an exciting time” for his players.

“There was times when we really didn’t think it would occur. There was pretty much no chance that it was going to occur then it flipped on us, which is a really good thing,” Andersen said. “I’m really happy the kids get to play all over the country, not just at Utah State, not just in the Mountain West.”

Yeah, the excitement is there even though they are fully aware that their NFL-quality quarterback and their starting running back, who flirted with a 1,000-yard season, are both gone.

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Yep, they know there are uncertainties surrounding their offensive backfield, both lines and their kicking team — facts that certainly factored into being picked to finish fourth in the Mountain Division.

And, yes, they definitely realize the challenge that faces them when they travel to Boise State as a two-touchdown underdog for Saturday night’s opener (5 p.m., FS1).

Regardless, optimism abounds for a team that not too long ago didn’t think it was even going to get a chance to play football this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re very motivated,” senior safety Shaq Bond said.

Quarterback Andrew Peasley put it this way: “Something feels a little different this year — in a positive way.”

They’re also embracing the change and challenges after losing half of their starters on offense and defense from their 2019 team, which went 7-6 overall, placed third in the Mountain Division and earned an invitation to play in the Frisco Bowl.

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They just want to play, including some, like former Utah quarterback Jason Shelley, who got a new lease on their football lives after choosing to change programs.

“It feels good to just put on some Aggie blue first off. I’m grateful for it,” Shelley said. “Secondly, going out there to play against Boise — I’m really juiced up over (that). I’m ready to go on the bus ride to Boise, to be honest with you. I can’t wait for Friday (travel day).”

Nobody will be under the microscope more than Shelley. Not only does he bring some Pac-12 playing experience with him to Logan, but he earned the nod — over Peasley — to fill the cleats of Jordan Love, one of the greatest QBs in Aggie history. Before being plucked up in the first round of the NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers, Love threw for 3,402 yards and 20 touchdowns while setting school records for completions and attempts.

“I feel pretty confident. I believe in the guys and the guys seem to believe in me,” said Shelley, who was former Utes QB Tyler Huntley’s backup two seasons ago before being relegated to third string a year ago. “I’m going out there with complete confidence ready to showcase my skills and give it to Boise.”

Utah State coach Gary Andersen cheers to his players during a timeout in the first half of an NCAA college football game against New Mexico on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019 in Albuquerque, N.M. | Andres Leighton, Associated Press

Andersen said Shelley and Peasley, who’s 100% after a knee injury, will see playing time behind center after they both showed well during what he called “a very competitive camp.”

“The quarterback room is in a good, solid place as far as how they’ve handled the competition,” Andersen said. “Now how they go out and react and how they play is the next step. … I’m excited to watch the quarterbacks play. I think they’ve both come a long ways.”

“We’re in great hands with both of our quarterbacks no matter who’s in the game,” Bond added.

Another former Ute, Devonta’e Henry-Cole, figures to play a big role for USU out of the backfield. The senior transfer is listed as a potential starting running back along with returning Aggies RB Jaylen Warren. Sophomore Pailate Makakona and freshman John Gentry are also in the mix to get carries now that honorable mention All-MWC running back Gerold Bright has moved on. Bright rushed for 921 yards and nine TDs last season.

“I feel pretty confident. I believe in the guys and the guys seem to believe in me. I’m going out there with complete confidence ready to showcase my skills and give it to Boise.” — Jason Shelley

“Our running backs are very competitive,” said Andersen, noting he could see four to five guys contributing. “It’s been fun to watch them compete.”

The Aggies return some seasoned receivers, including starters Jordan Nathan and Deven Thompkins. However, they will again be young in the offensive trenches, although they do return starters Demytrick Ali’fua, Alfred Edwards, Karter Shaw and tight end Carson Terrell. That unit’s progression could make or break the season.

Defensively, the Aggies welcome back five starters, including Bond, senior safety Troy Lefeged, junior cornerback Andre Grayson, senior linebacker Kevin Meitzenheimer and senior defensive lineman Justus Te’i.

The Aggies believe their defense is both faster and longer, which are both areas of emphasis for Andersen. The defensive backfield should again be a strength, while their front is somewhat untested.

They’ll get tested quickly against Boise State’s high-powered offense, which returns running back George Holani. He punished USU with a career-high 178 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries in the Broncos’ 56-21 blowout win last fall.

“We’ll have to tackle well and play great with our gaps,” Andersen said. “We have to hang with Boise for four quarters. It will be a fist fight.”

The Aggies’ special teams took a hit with the loss of kicker extraordinaire and honorable mention All-American Dominik Eberle, who hit 21 of 24 field goals and all 45 extra-point attempts, finishing with a team-high 108 points.

Utah State wide receiver Savon Scarver is stopped by Fresno State defensive back Jaron Bryant Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. Scarver was named the Mountain West preseason special teams player of the year for 2020. | Gary Kazanjian, Associated Press

But All-American return specialist Savon Scarver is back after having averaged 27.9 yards per kickoff with two touchdown returns his junior season. Scarver was recently named the Mountain West preseason special teams player of the year, so he’s again expected to be a major weapon for the Aggies.

Not surprisingly, BSU was picked to win the Mountain Division, followed by Wyoming, Air Force, Utah State, Colorado State and New Mexico. San Diego State and Nevada are the preseason favorites in the West Division.

“We’ll have to tackle well and play great with our gaps. We have to hang with Boise for four quarters. It will be a fist fight.” — Gary Andersen

It’s Andersen’s hope that this game and season will help Utah State make a move on Boise State’s league dominance.

“It’s a tremendous challenge,” Andersen said, “but it’s a challenge that we look forward to as a measuring stick to understand where we’ve gone and where we’ve been and where we have to go and what that three hours and change is going to bring to us as a program. We’re excited to get out there and compete.

“We’ll see exactly where we sit and they’ll see exactly where they sit.”

Shelley’s been looking forward to this moment since transferring to Utah State this summer. He immediately reached out to his new teammates and went and threw balls with some of his new teammates in July.

“Guys are locked in,” Shelley said. “Guys are ready to play ball.”