The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. We’ll take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

Today at No. 65: Utah State

Coach: Gary Andersen (15-22, entering fourth season at Utah State; 19-29 overall entering fifth season)

2011 record: 7-6 (5-2 in Western Athletic Conference, tied for second place in the WAC)


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Look back: Head coach Gary Andersen led Utah State to its first bowl appearance in 14 years. The Aggies thrived in crunch time, leading the nation with 10 games that were decided by one touchdown or less.

Utah State opened the 2011 season with a 42-38 loss at No. 19 Auburn, then earned a 54-17 win over Weber State. The Aggies went on to lose four of the next five games. Utah State suffered a 35-34 double overtime loss against Colorado State and a 27-24 loss at BYU. The team earned a 63-19 win against Wyoming, then suffered a 31-21 loss at Fresno State and a 24-17 loss against Louisiana Tech.

Utah State closed out the regular season with five consecutive wins, earning a 35-31 win at Hawai’i, a 34-33 win against San Jose State, a 49-42 overtime win at Idaho, a 21-17 win against Nevada and a 24-21 win at New Mexico State.
Utah State rallied from double digit deficits in four of its last six games, posting comeback wins against Hawai’i, San Jose State, Nevada and New Mexico State. The Aggies streak of close contests continued in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Utah State led Ohio 23-17 entering the fourth quarter. Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 13 seconds remaining in the game and Matt Weller hit the extra point to give the Bobcats a 24-23 win over the Aggies.

Offensive starters lost/returning: 6/5

Defensive starters lost/returning: 4/7

Key losses: RB Robert Turbin, LB Bobby Wagner, TE Tarren Lloyd, DL Levi Koskan, DL Quinn Garner, LB Kyle Gallager, OL Robert Hill, OL Funaki Asisi.

Top returnees: QB Chuckie Keeton, QB Adam Kennedy, OL Tyler Larsen, LB Bojay Filimoeatu, CB Nevin Lawson, RB/PR/KR Kerwynn Williams, OL Oscar Molina-Sanchez, DL Al Lapuaho.

Strengths: The Aggies return two quarterbacks capable of leading the offense. Chuckie Keeton started the 2011 season before getting injured against Hawai’i during the eighth week of the season. Adam Kennedy took over, posting a 4-1 record as a starter. The quarterbacks will be able to work with a variety of playmakers, including running back and return specialist Kerwynn Williams.

The team also returns three members of the offensive line and three members of the defensive line, including first team All-WAC center Tyler Larsen. The offensive line helped fuel Utah State’s potent rushing attack, which ranked No. 6 out of 120 teams in the country with 282.69 yards per game.

Utah State also returns seven members of a solid defensive lineup that limited opposing teams to a 151.89 pass efficiency rating, which ranks No. 18 in the nation, and 127.77 rushing yards per game, which ranks No. 31 nationally.

The team will be able to lean on six players who returned from injuries that forced them to miss all or a portion of the 2011 season. The group includes tight end Kellen Bartlett, safety Gavin Jones, safety Brian Suite, linebacker Terrell Thompson, offensive lineman Bryce Walker and Keeton.

Weaknesses: Utah State must replace WAC offensive player of the year Robert Turbin and three-time All-WAC linebacker Bobby Wagner, two key leaders and elite athletes who contributed heavily to the team’s success.

The Aggies had a tepid passing attack, ranking No. 97 in the country with 174.62 yards per game. The team also ranked No. 106 in turnover margin, averaging -0.69 margin per game.

Outlook: Utah State is shooting for its first back-to-back bowl appearances since the 1960 and 1961 seasons. While the Aggies rallied for a string of memorable wins in 2011, it’s unclear whether Utah State can continue to thrive under pressure without some key starters no longer with the team.

2012 Schedule
Aug. 30 Southern Utah
Sept. 7 Utah
Sept. 15 At Wisconsin
Sept. 22 At Colorado State
Sept. 29 UNLV
Oct. 5 At BYU
Oct. 13 At San Jose State
Oct. 20 New Mexico State
Oct. 27 At UT-San Antonio
Nov. 3 Texas State
Nov. 17 At Louisiana Tech
Nov. 24 Idaho

Rest of the countdown: