Nearly a month ago, ESPN published its preview of the Mountain West Conference for the upcoming 2024 college football season.

Boise State was at the top, per usual, while New Mexico and Nevada brought up the rear, again per usual.

Utah State fell in the middle of the pack — at No. 7 to be exact. It was not a surprising position for the Aggies given their back-to-back 6-7 campaigns, plus serious roster turnover for the second consecutive year.

Mostly, the Aggies’ placement came down to the fact that ESPN’s Bill Connelly couldn’t nail down who USU is right now.

“It’s a new team once again,” he wrote.

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Connelly believed in the Aggies’ offense under head coach Blake Anderson, but saw the defense as the real issue. The addition of Nate Dreiling at defensive coordinator was reason for optimism, though, he said.

“That (the addition of Dreiling) might end up being the most important transfer of the bunch,” Connelly wrote.

Since that preview was published, Anderson has been fired and Dreiling was named the interim head coach of the Aggies for the duration of the 2024 season.

As a result, it is fair to say the Aggies are more of an unknown than ever. An unknown that is expected to be almost exactly what it has been the last couple of years.

Mountain West preseason poll

On Wednesday, the MWC media preseason poll was released and Utah State landed exactly where ESPN and Connelly projected. Pretty much exactly where a team with a recent history of success but quite a few question marks would land — No. 7 out of 12 teams.

Boise State was tabbed as the runaway favorite in the conference, collecting 38 of 46 first-place votes and 543 total points to lead the conference preseason poll for the 14th straight season.

UNLV landed second in the poll, with 471 points and four first-place votes, followed by Fresno State (460 points and four first-place votes), Air Force (384 points), Colorado State (337 points) and Wyoming (296 points).

Utah State received 285 points, which put it well ahead of San Diego State at No. 8 (251).

USU’s placement falls almost in line with ESPN’s Football Power Index.

There, the Aggies come in No. 8 in the Mountain West, and they are projected to be in a fight for bowl eligibility for the third straight season (ESPN gives USU a 53.2% chance to reach six wins).

The Aggies did land two players on the preseason all-conference team — wide receiver Jalen Royals and safety Ike Larsen. Offensive coordinator Kyle Cefalo praised those players for returning to Utah State despite many lucrative opportunities to play elsewhere.

“They had opportunities to leave and they stuck around and have embraced their new teammates,” he told the Deseret News late last month.

Boise State junior running back Ashton Jeanty was named the preseason MW offensive player of the year, while Boise State defensive end Ahmed Hassanein and UNLV linebacker Jackson Woodard share preseason MW defensive player of the year honors. UNLV returner Jacob De Jesus was named the preseason MW special teams player of the year.

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Ultimately, Utah State won’t especially care where it landed in the conference preseason poll.

The Aggies have aspirations to win the Mountain West this year — as they do every year — and who knows what could happen after that with the expanded College Football Playoff.

Amid all the change and turmoil in Logan, USU will hope to exceed outside expectations under Dreiling and company.

“From the top down, to the university, to administration to the coaches and the players, let’s all head in the same direction,” Cefalo said. “We all want to be successful and these kids want to maximize their time. We have a lot of seniors on this team. ... It is kind of cool the way it (the roster) has all been put together. It has been crazy the way we’ve constructed it all. This is our team, this is what we’ve got and we are excited.”

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