Ready or not, the 2021 college football season has arrived for the Aggies.
The 124th season in program history will begin for Utah State late this Saturday night on the road against Pac-12 Conference program Washington State. The Cougars will welcome the Aggies to Pullman for a scheduled 9 o'clock opening kickoff.
Fall camp concluded for USU last Wednesday as the team practiced 16 times in a 21-day stretch, plus held a pair of scrimmages. Head coach Blake Anderson gave his Aggies what he felt was a much-needed break Monday, and they will resume their preparations for the Cougars on Tuesday.
"I think we've had a good fall camp and we've grinded them pretty good, but it's time to get on to an opponent," Anderson said during Monday's press conference. "... We're ready to play an opponent. Whether we're ready or not, I guess that remaining to be seen, but you've kind of just got to go out and measure yourself and see what you're capable of doing. But I'm excited about the game. I think it's a great game for us. It's a big challenge. We knew that going in, but it's a challenge we're excited about."
Kicking off the season on the road against a P-5 opponent is nothing new for the Aggies, who have faced their scenario seven times since 2010 --- most recently against Wake Forest in 2019. USU hasn't prevailed on a road trip against an opponent from a P-5 conference since a 10-7 triumph over Kansas State on Sept. 11, 1971.
Will this be the year the Aggies terminate a very lengthy losing streak? It's going to be a daunting task against a veteran Washington State offense. Anderson has been very encouraged by his team's collective work ethic and that is a very good starting point.
"I will tell you the thing that they've done the best is just consistent attitude, consistent work ethic," Anderson said. "We really have not had to ask for it. It's been assumed and it's been a given on a daily basis that we're going to have to outwork people. We know our talent level is something we have to improve upon. Our athletic ability, our strength, all of those things are developmental, but the one thing we have a choice to do right every day is how we work. So in that sense, this group has a very consistent day to day work ethic and level of work that I think allows us to improve daily."
Standout linebacker Justin Rice, for one, is confident the Aggies were able to come together as a team during fall camp and are ready for game day.
"We've definitely gelled over the last couple of weeks of fall camp, a lot of time spent together, a lot of reps spent together," said Rice, who was a first-team all-conference selection as Fresno State and Arkansas State. "So we're going to be out on Saturday and really show what we've been working on, and we're definitely physically ready. (Head strength & conditioning) coach (Paul) Jackson's done a great job all summer of getting us ready, getting our bodies ready. And coach A's done a great job of taking care of us through camp, so we're mentally and physically ready to go out and win this game."
It appears both defenses will have to gameplan for a couple of different options at the opposing quarterback position. USU released its first depth chart Monday morning, and it didn't specify who was the starting signal caller between Logan Bonner and Andrew Peasley. Likewise, WSU hasn't announced its starter at quarterback, although it appears it will be incumbent Jayden de Laura or Tennessee graduate transfer Jarrett Guarantano, who started 32 career games for the Volunteers.
"Well, I can say, (but) I'm not gonna say," Anderson said when asked Monday about USU's starting QB. "How about that? You know, we're still in a quarterback competition. We're trying to be as fair and transparent and deliberate as we can be. We've had great conversations with both young men. They've both done a phenomenal jobs. I'm trying not to hold the injury against Logan. You know, he didn't mean to break a bone in his foot, he didn't want to miss the reps that he did. ... At the same time, we're trying to be just as fair with Peasley, who had a phenomenal spring (and) maybe as good a summer as we've had from a player, not just quarterback, but player had that I've been around."
Regardless of who takes the first snap for the Aggies, chances are Peasley and Bonner will get an opportunity to showcase their skills Saturday.
"The fact that we've got two guys that can both lead our team effectively, we just want to make sure we make the right choice as to who that's going to be in the long term," Anderson said. "So there's a chance we name a guy before Saturday. There's a very real chance that both play. We let live football kind of dictate where we head from there. I feel like this is bigger than just one game. Honestly, it's bigger than one game or one person, so we want to make sure we've got the right guy leading the program for the future, for the rest of the season, so we're not going to rush (that decision). That could be a game time decision or it could be a result of how these guys handle live action on game day."
Is there a chance Bonner and Peasley will both receive an extended amount of playing time throughout the season? After all, Anderson did use two signal callers at Arkansas State last fall --- one of whom was Bonner --- although COVID-19 "dictated that decision," he asserted.
"We want a guy that everybody can rally around, that can lead," Anderson said. "Now, does that mean we wouldn't still use some packages for whoever ends up being the No. 2 (QB)? That is always on the table and there may be some things that whoever that is can bring to the table that helps us be better. But I do think we're going to end up with one quarterback at some point in the very near future."