Coach: Brent Guy (first season) 2004 record: 3-8 Sun Belt finish: 2-5 (t-7th) 2004 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 115th (76.3 ypg) Passing: 58th (214.1 ypg) 2004 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 90th (191.9 ypg) Passing: 42nd (202.6 ypg)
San Jose State
at Fresno State
at New Mexico State
Depth Chart: Offense
4 returning starters in red
Leon Jackson III
Depth Chart: Defense
6 returning starters in red
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A new coach, a new conference and a new quarterback have Utah State entering this season with plenty of question marks.
Brent Guy became the 25th head coach in school history when he was hired in early December. The former Aggie assistant (1992-94) takes over a team that is headed to the Western Athletic Conference this fall and hasn't had a winning record since '96. Guy will be the seventh head coach in the last 24 years and will attempt to become the first since 1973 to have a winning record in his first year.
"It's not going to be easy, but we plan on putting a competitive team on the field," Guy said.
Guy replaces Mick Dennehy, who was fired last November after five years at the helm. The new coach has several priorities entering his first year at the helm.
"We have to learn how to run the football," Guy said. "We have to be able to stop the run. We have to hold on to the ball on offense and create turnovers on defense. We need to straighten those out right now."
A new coaching staff, a new quarterback and a bunch of injured running backs have left some question marks on offense. Utah State will continue to run primarily a one-back offense under Guy, but look for the Aggie quarterback to call his own number a lot more this fall.
Who that will be is another matter. With two-year starter Travis Cox gone, sophomores Leon Jackson III and Eric Sobolewski battled for the job throughout spring drills. A starter has not been named. Jackson has the most experience, although Sobolewski seemed to edge ahead in the spring.
"I don't think we can declare one or the other," Guy said.
Only Chris Forbes has seen any action at running back, rushing for 396 yards as a freshman in '04. He will be pushed by Beau Herbert and Marcus Crawford, both returning from injuries.
The receiving corps is solid with the return of Kevin Robinson (44 catches, 602 yards) and Tony Pennyman (43, 598). Tight end Jason Stephens also saw action last year.
The offensive line is thin on numbers but has experience. Three-year starter Donald Penn will lead this unit.
While the offense is trying to establish the run, the defense will be looking to stop opponents' rushing attack. The front seven have Guy smiling. "That front seven is probably the most experienced group we have on the team," Guy said.
Utah State has gone back to a 4-3 alignment after two years of playing a 3-4. Leading the defensive front will be senior ends John Chick and Michael Gates. Freshman Brian Soi is expected to step in and make an impact right away at one of the tackle spots.
The linebacking group has four seniors in Nate Fredrick, Jake Stewart, Matt Wiser and D.J. Brookter. Only Fredrick, who had 36 tackles, was a regular starter a year ago.
The secondary also has experience back -- if all the players return from injuries. Seniors Jarrett Bush and Cornelius Lamb (54 tackles) anchor the corners. The safeties will be solid with Andre Bala (64 tackles), Joe Lindsay, Antonio Taylor and Terrance Washington, who returns from missing most of last year with an injury.
The pieces all are in place for this unit. Jackson, the quarterback/punter returns after averaging 42.3 yards a year ago but has been replaced by Justin Hamblin. Senior Jarrod Jakubiak made 4-of-5 field goal attempts in 2004. Robinson ranked second in the country in punt returns last year with a 22.5-yard average. He may also end up carrying the load on kickoff returns.
There are plenty of areas that need improving and there is not much time. Utah State moves to the Western Athletic Conference this year, so the competition is going to get stiffer.
The Aggies have not had a winning season since 1996, but six home games will give this team a shot at approaching the six-win mark. Utah State must establish who will start at quarterback, hope the offensive line comes together and try to field a healthy backfield to have a chance at reaching .500.
While the offense is finding itself, the defense must come through early. Coming close to a .500 season would be major progress in Guy's first year.