2003 College Football Preview's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Utah St. Aggies

The Lowdown
Coach: Mick Dennehy (4th year, 13-20)
2002 record: 4-7
Sun Belt finish: None (Independent in 2002)
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 84.5 ypg (112th)
Pass: 308.0 ypg (7th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 234.8 ypg (112th)
Pass: 236.3 ypg (87th)
Projected Starters
Offense (5 returning starters in bold)
WR  Barry Tolli  Jr. 
WR   15   Chris Stallworth   Sr.  
LT   72   Donald Penn   So.  
LG  77  Greg Vandermade  Sr. 
C   59   Aric Galliano   Sr.  
RG   63   Trevor Hutton   Sr.  
RT  76  Elliott Tupea  Jr. 
TE  86  Patrick McNutt  So. 
QB  14  Travis Cox  Jr. 
FB   89   Chris Cooley   Sr.  
TB  33  Richard Watson  So. 
Defense (7)
DT   41   Justin Jackson   Sr.  
NG   92   Ronald Tupea   Jr.  
DT   37   John Chick   So.  
Stud  91  Nate Putnam  Jr. 
SLB   49   Rodney Wilson   Sr.  
MLB   30   Robert Watts   Jr.  
WLB  53  Nate Fredrick  So. 
CB  20  Jerome Dennis  Jr. 
CB   2   Mark Estelle   Sr.  
SS   25   Derrek Shank   Sr.  
FS  21  Mike Rosencrans  Sr. 
Special Teams
38  Ben Chaet  So. 
38  Ben Chaet  So. 
KR  20  Jerome Dennis  Jr. 
PR  39  David Fiefia  Sr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  at Utah 
Sept. 6  at Nebraska 
Sept. 13  at Arizona State 
Sept. 27  Louisiana-Monroe 
Oct. 4  at New Mexico 
Oct. 11  Wyoming 
Oct. 18  at North Texas 
Oct. 25  Arkansas State 
Nov. 1  Middle Tennessee 
Nov. 8  at New Mexico State 
Nov. 15  Troy State 
Nov. 22  at Idaho 
At first glance, it looks like a major rebuilding year at Utah State. The Aggies lost their top quarterback, receiver, running back, linebacker, defensive back, punter and kicker. "There are some holes," fourth-year coach Mick Dennehy admitted. "Yet I feel we have young kids in the program that are capable. Their time is now."

Spring practices went well, leaving the coach optimistic about the 2003 season. The biggest boost is being in a conference. After the past two years of playing as an independent, the Aggies join the Sun Belt Conference with a bowl berth on the line.

"It feels like we have been on the outside the last two years," Dennehy said. "The aspect of competitiveness, of going out and playing for something, putting it on the line for something, I think that will make an immediate impact."

First, USU must face another stiff non-conference lineup. Games at Utah, Nebraska and Arizona State to start the season will be a test for an inexperienced team.


There is more than one pair of big shoes to fill on offense. Utah State lost its top quarterback, receiver and running back from a unit that ranked seventh nationally in passing and 38th in total offense. Plus two three-year starters on the offensive line are gone.

The biggest concern has to be at quarterback. Junior Travis Cox has seen action in nine games during his Aggie career, but mostly when the outcome was already decided. He passed for 11 yards in 2002. Cox is on top of the depth chart after a solid spring, but will be challenged by redshirt freshman Bryan Black and  Matt Crivello. Whoever wins the job will have tight end/fullback Chris Cooley (31 receptions, 502 yards and four touchdowns) and wide receiver Chris Stallworth (17, 231, three) to pass to.

Five offensive linemen have starts under their belts. Running backs Richard Watson and David Fiefia have also been starters.


The Aggies ranked near the bottom of Division I-A in rushing defense and total defense a year ago. A new defensive coordinator was hired, and USU has switched from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4. The spring was spent learning assignments.

The Aggies lost their leading tackler from last year, but welcome back seven starters. Former starter Nate Putnam returns after missing 2002 with a shoulder injury. He earned All-Big West honors in 2000 as a defensive end, but he will play linebacker in the Aggies' new scheme.

Junior linebacker Robert Watts, who finished second on the team in tackles a year ago with 85, is pleased with the new defense. "I love it. I just get to run and tackle people," he said.

Defensive lineman John Chick started all 11 games as a true freshman and led the team in sacks with four. Tackle Michael Gates emerged as a force in the spring. The Aggie secondary, which has eight players back with experience, has struggled at times. Cornerback Mark Estelle broke up 13 passes last year.


USU must replace its two-year kicker and four-year starter at punter. Sophomore Ben Chaet and freshman Justin Hamblin will share the kicking duties.

Dennis ranked seventh nationally in kickoff returns with a 27.7 average, while Fiefia averaged 9.1 yards on punt returns.


After back-to-back 4-7 seasons as an independent, the best news last fall came when the Sun Belt Conference invited the Aggies to join the league in 2003. Dennehy noticed a new enthusiasm with his team during spring practices. While there is excitement about joining the Sun Belt, the fact is the offense has a number of question marks, and the schedule is not kind at the beginning with three tough road games. The defense should be much improved in 2003, which could keep USU competitive in its first tour through its new conference.

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