Strength of schedule is completely speculative…… right? There is no way we can predict how hard the schedule will be based on predictions or even results.
The truth is that unless someone can find a sports almanac from five years from now like Biff did in Back to the Future II, there won’t be any completely accurate prediction anytime soon but that doesn’t mean one can’t try. Here are the games for the Aggies ranked from toughest to easiest.
Tier 1 games: The Highly Doubtful games
These games are a 0-25% chance that USU will pick up a win.
1. Utah State at LSU: If this were a game of horseshoes and hand grenades then maybe USU would have a decent chance. Unfortunately close doesn’t count in football and the Aggies have found ways to stay close but ultimately lose to Power 5 teams. It is always a tall task to get a win over LSU in Death Valley. Just ask Tanner Mangum how hard it was to cross the 50 yard line. Hint: He couldn’t even do that against the vaunted SEC defense.
USU will have to pull a rabbit out of a hat to win this game. Even if LSU isn’t fully healthy they are usually able to beat a G5 team. Yes they did lose to Troy a couple years ago but don’t expect a “Trojan Horse” to catch the LSU Tigers on a regular basis. USU will probably enter the game a double digit underdog even if they have a good start to the year.
Based on previous results even with Gary Andersen at the helm I don’t think LSU will light up the scoreboard as his defenses at USU were often some of the best in the nation. However, it was hard for him to score the ball at times. If this staff can match the success that David Yost did with his up-tempo offense last year then expect the Aggies to match LSU toe for toe but ultimately lose due to a critical mistake near the end.
Final Score: USU 17 LSU 21
2. USU at Wake Forest: The Aggies were able to defeat the Demon Deacons in Logan 5 years ago but they weren’t so lucky when they went to North Carolina two years ago. Expect the Aggies to play better this time around. Still it’s hard to know for sure whether the Aggies can defeat an ACC team. Again, I think their defense will be stout but I don’t know if the Aggies can score enough points to win but Jordan Love is still under center.
It definitely boosts the SOS of the Aggies to have to face two Power 5 teams on the road. I think the best the Aggies can get in these two money games is a split and beating Wake Forest is the only way to get that split. Not many teams are beating LSU in their house.
Final Score: USU 17 Wake Forest 13
3. Boise at USU: This is a battle of the blue bloods. Since the game is being played in Logan this year no birds will nosedive into the Blue Smurf Turf field. The Broncos are always a tough out so don’t expect the Aggies to dethrone them anytime soon in the Mountain West pecking order. In 2015 the Aggies had a great win vs Boise and they can get more wins if they force a lot of turnovers. Boise will win this game if they have 3 turnovers or less. I expect Boise to beat USU on Thanksgiving weekend.
Final Score: USU 10 Boise 20
Tier 2 games: Pick ‘Em
These games are a 25 -50% likelihood of winning.
4. BYU at Utah State: Here is another blue blood. They have battled for over a century and now compete for the Old Wagon Wheel every year. USU has dominated this matchup every year. They seem to be a little more hyped for this matchup because historically they have been referred to as the “little brother” of the series. That was mostly due to former Aggie player LaVell Edwards coaching the Cougars to national title runs for three decades.
Recently the Aggies have won two straight over their rivals with the same shade of blue and are going for three. While the Cougars seem to get more hyped for some of their Power 5 matchups (especially the Utes) they won’t be overlooking the Aggies anymore. This game will be at home but the Aggies will still want to score as much as possible. The defensive battles between Gary Andersen and BYU a decade ago resulted in low scoring games that usually ended in favor of the Cougars. With a talented rising quarterback in Zach Wilson the whole Aggie team will need to play very well to win.
Count this game as more of a 50/50 game. As the season goes on health will also play an important factor. Usually the team in this series that keeps their quarterback healthy will win. There have been a lot of injuries at that position but if both are healthy then Jordan Love is a little more experienced and talented than Zach Wilson. It is a team game though so the Aggies and Cougars will need to keep the running game, defense and special teams strong. Rivalry games are usually won in the trenches so both lines will need to play well.
Gary Andersen is just 1-3 vs BYU but he did get a win over the Utes as well. He was the defensive coordinator for the Utes for a while. Now USU isn’t necessarily a finished product but they are trending to becoming a powerhouse in the Mountain West Conference. If he does what worked well for him then the Aggies will inch closer to evening out the series between BYU in which they trail 48-37-3 all time. Expect this game to be closer than past years.
Final Score: USU 27 BYU 20 OT
5. USU at Fresno: I am predicting that Utah State will split the P5 games and split the rivalry games with their blue blood brethren. I also think the Aggies will split the games in the Golden State. If they were going to lose a game I would say it’s more likely that they lose to Fresno State than San Diego State. Fresno is the reigning Mountain West champion and they play as tough as their mascot suggests. The Bulldogs will struggle early but in the end they will be a little too much for the Aggies. If there was a double digit loss in conference for the Aggies, this one might be it.
Final Score: USU 13 Fresno 24
6. USU at San Diego State
The Aztecs are never pushovers. One need not look back too far to see that the Aggies have been dominated by the Aztecs. San Diego State has won 12 of 13 against the Aggies. The lone win on the Aggie side came back in 1967. However, the Aggies are looking better than ever and should start to assert themselves in this rivalry.
In 2015 USU beat another rival that had previously beat them regularly in Boise State. They were then soundly defeated by San Diego State shortly after.
This will be the first conference game and the third totals for the Aggies in 2019. They will be coming off a bye week so expected them to be fresh and ready. The key to beating good teams is to win the turnover battle so expect the Aggies to beat San Diego State assuming they win that battle.
Final Score: USU 40 SDSU 13
Should wins: These games have a 50 to 75 percent chance of an Aggie win.
7. USU at New Mexico
This game will be closer than those who just checked last year’s box score would expect. New Mexico has challenged and even beat Utah State in not to distant memory. Aggie fans can almost picture the old Lobo coach with his smug grin as the Lobos beat the Aggies in yet another single digit loss in a disappointing 3 win season in 2016.
These Aggies though are on cloud nine and shouldn’t fall below cloud 8 this year if they play well. By cloud 8 I’m talking an 8 win season. It is totally doable but if it’s going to happen then they have to beat New Mexico. In other words, this season is a no-go if they don’t beat the Lobos.
Final Score: USU 23 New Mexico 20 in an OT win
8. USU at Air Force
This is another game the Aggies HAVE to win that won’t be easy. The Aggies just edged Air Force by 10 points that was closer than the final score reflected with some critical turnovers that gave the Falcons life. Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell was in attendance during that game which made it a memorable night in Logan.
Both Colorado schools in the Mountain West are tough so the Aggies have to at least get the split. I am going to say they won’t win this one because it’s on the road and the Aggies haven’t beaten Air Force in Colorado since 2013, their inaugural year in the Mountain West. The Aggies walloped the Falcons 52-20 in that game.
Final Score: USU 28 Air Force 35 (a la Matt Wells, Gary will lose a head scratcher he should have won with the same Final score as the 2017 game)
9. Utah State vs CSU:
I would put this game as a closer one than you would think. The Rams are good and the Aggies don’t always wipe the floor with them. Since joining the Mountain West, the Aggies have posted an even 3-3 record against these male sheep from Fort Collins. 2 of those 3 wins were at home. The Aggies finally broke their two game road skid with a narrow victory in the centennial state last year.
This game will come one week after a likely difficult game in San Diego. The Aggies will want momentum heading into the LSU game so it will be important to set the tone early. That “illegal touching” technicality saved them from a disappointing loss last year. If this game were on the road I’d pick the Rams but the Aggies haven’t lost a home game since their 2017 season finale against Air Force and, with Boise State being their toughest home game near the end of the season, I think the Aggies extend the home win streak to double digits before the Broncos likely break it.
What will make or break the Aggies’ season is whether they can find a way to win games in one of the toughest road schedules in the Mountain West. If the Aggies can at least split their road schedule and be great at home as usual, then they will have a season they can be proud of. However, if they can’t get any of these splits against the Colorado, California, blue blood rivals, and Power 5 teams, then this would be a very disappointing season ending with a likely #FireGary campaign from the savage Aggie fans on Twitter.
I believe the Aggies will be somewhere in the middle. Not as good as last season, but not hitting the panic button either. 2020 has the potential to be great and hopefully by then the Aggies will find the heir to Jordan Love. The road back to greatness runs through Colorado and the Aggies need to do well in their Rumbles in the Rockies to have a great year.
Just like the 2011 USU Homecoming vs the Rams, I think someone is going to go for two in overtime and miss. The difference is it won’t be the Aggies. If we were in that situation Gary might be predictable and try to run it like he did with Robert Turbin 8 years ago. However, I think the Aggies make some big plays on the Rams and put the pressure on them.
Final Score: USU 28 CSU 27
10. USU vs Nevada: Just like basketball, the Aggies should be waving their fingers No No No to the University of Nevada Reno. The Aggies never should have lost that came in Reno in 2016 but we will just forget that. Nevada May have had some good NCAA tournament runs in basketball but they haven’t been that great since Colin Kaepernick played for them. Expect this to be one of the best wins of the year for the Aggies.
Final Score: USU 45 UNR 20
11. Utah State vs Wyoming: Like the 73 win Warriors, USU is great in recent memory following a loss. The Aggies were undefeated last year following a loss and they one those comeback games by a combined total of 86 points. I don’t see the Aggies losing any games this year following a loss. Their schedule has a good alternation of competition level throughout the year. Their toughest two game stretch might be the first two weeks of November when they face BYU at home then travel to Fresno the next week.
The Jim Bridger Rifle looks bound to stay in Logan for a second straight year. The Aggies have enough trophies to cross the plains with a hunting rifle and an extra wagon wheel. Whether or not they keep dominating these two rivals is up to them. This year I think this game isn’t as close as last year as there will be some home cooking in Logan.
Final Score: USU 31 Wyoming 17
Definitely win: Utah State shouldn’t lose this game in any alternate universe. If they do then fire everybody.
12. Utah State vs Stony Brook: This was a middle of the pack team in the Colonial Athletic association. Utah State shouldn’t lose to an FCS team of these caliber. San Jose State night but that’s a different story. USU might not score 73 points like they did against Tennessee Tech last year but they should easily eclipse the 50 point barrier.
Final Score: USU 52 Stony Brook 10
Bottom Line: USU has the toughest schedule in the Mountain West and a tougher than average schedule among FBS schools. According to Tom Fornelli they have the third ranked SOS among Group of 5 teams behind just BYU and Tulsa. He has the Aggies only ranked 57th in the nation on their schedule which I disagree with.
He also has BYU as the 16th strength of schedule which I’m not sure I completely agree with. I will write the BYU season preview shortly but I believe both of these schools have a similar level of difficulty in their schedules. I’d put both schedules in the thirties.
Let’s look at some of the teams in the thirties and see how the Aggies compare. He has Iowa from the Big 10 ranked 30th in SOS. Let’s take a look at their non-conference. They are playing Miami. This isn’t South Beach. This is Miami Ohio. That should be an easy win. Middle Tennessee is a little tougher but should be a win over another G5 school. Their lone Power 5 non-conference game is against in-state rival Iowa State from the Big 12.
USU takes the non-conference here. It is a little advantage here because the Aggies get four non-conference games while this Big 10 team is only getting 3. The Aggies top 3 non-conference games are tougher than the rivalry matchup vs the cyclones. The Aggies go at Wake Forest and LSU which will both be tough road games and host their rival BYU Cougars. Their lone easy win out of conference is their FCS opponent which everyone tends to schedule.
Iowa obviously has a tougher in conference schedule as the Big 10 is a Power 5 conference for a reason. There are also tough games in conference such as Michigan and Wisconsin as well as easy games such as Nebraska and Rutgers.
Overall I would put USU somewhere around 37th in the nation. Their Mountain West conference schedule is very underrated and non-conference play is among the hardest in the nation. I will say that they have a tougher schedule than Tulsa who is ranked 47th in the nation in strength of schedule.
Their non-conference games are Michigan State, Oklahoma State, San Jose State and Wyoming. Sorry but that doesn’t thread the needle. Neither do their other games in the American Conference outside of UCF. USU has a harder schedule than teams in the American or ACC bottom feeders do.
Overall, with a tough schedule like this I don’t think the Aggies will record another double digit win season but I do think they can get 9 wins if they can get a favorable Bowl matchup. We will take a look at bowl projections later in the year. One thing is for certain: the Aggies have a tougher schedule around the clock this year and will have to split the Colorados, Californias, blue bloods and money games to have a solid year which doesn’t involve frantically trying to qualify for a bottom of the barrel bowl games
Final SOS Prediction: 37th out of 130 FBS teams.
Final Record Prediction: 9-4 (In a perfect world with perfect splits, no 2+ game losing streaks and a favorable bowl matchup. Basement for this program should be Bowl eligible because of the raised expectations but even a 7 or 8 win season would be OK.
The Aggies just need to stay on the map because in the life of a Group of 5 team, it’s easy to fall off the map quicker than you can say Atlantis. The good news is teams like UCF can go from winless to undefeated with a good coach and winnable conference. That also comes with a New Years Six being the highest possible level of competition.