Utah State Football: Players to watch on Offense and Defense in 2020

The players to keep a close eye on in 2020 for USU.

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Who will stand out and elevate the Aggies?

With the 2020 season (hopefully) coming up on its opening date, Aggie fans have plenty to look forward to in terms of on-field talent being displayed. I expect many of the players on this list will flourish compared to where they were last year. Some are in their final years of eligibility, and others have much to prove after being sidelined for various reasons.

Without further ado, here is my list of the top players to watch on offense and defense for the 2020 edition of the Utah State Aggies.

Defense

1. CJ Pollard, S

USU hit the jackpot with portal transfers this off-season. Pollard comes in as a graduate transfer from USC with one year of eligibility remaining. For a young defense that needs all the help it can get, Pollard is a greatly needed addition to bolster the defensive backfield.

With the Trojans, Pollard totaled up 30 career tackles, 3.5 for a loss and 0.5 sacks in three seasons. Though these numbers are modest, Pollard was nonetheless a very highly rated prospect coming out of high school. The physical talent and measurements are certainly there to succeed in Utah State’s scheme. His presence in the backfield will greatly help out senior Shaq Bond as the defense looks to do better than its 86th rank in 2019 for 238.6 passing yards allowed per game.

2. Hale Motu’apuaka, DL

The sophomore defensive lineman recently made it back to the team after an off-season hiatus. As a freshman in 2019 for the Aggies, Motu’apuaka tallied 13 tackles (5-solo, 8-assist), which included 0.5 tackles for loss, to go along with one quarterback hurry. He red-shirted in 2018.

With the Aggies abandoning the 4-3 base defense in favor of the 3-4 scheme they have traditionally run, this player is ripe to make a jump in production for the team. He has excellent size and measurements and he’s certain to be a key part of the defensive line rotation along with SR players Soni Fata and Caden Andersen.

Even if he doesn’t get a ton of tackles or make flashy plays, Motu’apuaka will be able to take up blocks and clog the middle against opposing rushers with ease. His natural fit in USU’s traditional scheme will significantly bolster the rush defense, which gave up a dismal 201.9 ypg in 2019.

3. Eric Munoz, LB

Aggie fans no doubt remember Munoz’s memorable heroics in a slugfest vs the Pokes in 2019. Though it was just his first career start, Munoz made the most of it as he recorded a career-high 13 tackles, including 0.5 tackles for loss, and nabbed two interceptions, including the game-winner. After the game, he opened up on his struggles to find playing time at different schools and how he finally broke through for the Aggies.

Making the story even sweeter, Munoz earned a scholarship within a week after the Aggies retained the Hawkin rifle trophy against their Mountain division rival.

With the switch over to the 3-4 scheme, Munoz will have an excellent opportunity to put his stamp on this year’s defense along with fellow SR Kevin Meitzenheimer. He’ll be afforded more opportunities to blitz opposing QBs and more chances to ensure his final year of eligibility ends with a bang. His emotion is as refreshing as it is inspiring.

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Offense

1. Jaylen Warren, RB

My regular readers know how high I am on this senior running back. Nonetheless, I don’t think it can be overstated just how important Warren is to the rushing attack this season. If he were to go down with an injury, it would be a savage blow to a position group that struggled previously struggled to establish genuine consistency. Ranking just a modest 73rd in 2019 with 152.2 ypg, USU’s run game needs to do better this year if they want to improve on their 7-6 record.

When Warren is healthy, he’s a load to tackle and he runs angry. He’s also a legitimate pass-catching threat as well, so it helps stifle any temptation opposing defenses have to stack the box against him. Warren carried the ball 112 times for 569 yards (5.1 ypc/47.4 ypg) and five touchdowns last year. Those are strong numbers in a vacuum, and they will get better if he avoids the injury bug in 2020. His spot on the 2020 Doak Walker Award watchlist is well justified and he may just be the best offensive weapon USU has going forward.

2. Jason Shelley, QB

With Henry Colombi transferring to Texas Tech, the Aggies desperately need strong leadership at the QB position to calm the team waters. Fortunately, Jason Shelley may be just what the Aggies need to succeed in 2020.

Shelley is a true dual-threat QB, which is very much in line with the QBs Andersen has recruited to USU in the past. Combined with the run-heavy emphasis the Aggies will be relying on this year, his skillset is naturally-attuned to this offensive scheme. Shelley earned five starts at QB for the Utes and overall produced 1,428 yards of total offense, combining 1,205 passing yards and 223 rushing yards. If runners like Warren ease the pressure on him, don’t be surprised to see this QB turn into an All-league talent by season’s end.

3. Justin McGriff, WR

USU’s passing game last year was good, but it nonetheless left something to be desired. The recent addition of JUCO transfer Justin McGriff will hopefully boost the passing offense closer to where it was in 2018.

He is the third-highest rated commit in Utah State history, according to the 247 sports composite ranking. In his one year at ASA Miami, Justin pulled in 25 receptions for 360 yards and 8 touchdowns, some very solid numbers. In terms of size, he’s quite similar to former Aggie star receiver Ron’quavion Tarver. With McGriff’s presence on the field, the Aggie offense will have a chance to be multi-dimensional again. McGriff can also win the jump ball battles USU often failed to get in 2019.

No disrespect to senior receivers Savon Scarver and Jordan Nathan, but they’ll produce more for the team with McGriff’s services, which makes him a player that both fans and opposing teams will need to keep a close eye on.

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Mountain West Basketball: We’ve Got A Good Old Fashion Recruiting Standoff On Our Hands With Frank Anselem

Will the Aztecs or Lobos earn a commitment from center Frank Anselem?

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MW Basketball: We’ve Got A Good Old Fashion Recruiting Standoff On Our Hands


Four-Star Center set to make his decision on Wednesday June 3rd, the Aztecs and Lobos both land in his final-four.


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Both teams make the final-four list of coveted center, Wednesday’s commitment will be reminiscent of past recruiting battles between these conference foes.

The recruitment of Frank Anselem has been full of surprises, to say the least, but at the onset of June, the highly sought after center looks towards the future. As he announced a scheduled commitment on Wednesday, June 3rd along with a final-four list of schools that includes Mountain West members New Mexico and San Diego State.

The 6-foot-10, 220 pound Center from Suwanee, GA opted to play his junior season at Prolific Prep in Napa, CA alongside and against some of the top players from around the country. His recruitment has been a bit all over the place in the last couple of months, as a previous commitment to LSU as a member of the 2021 recruiting class gave way to Anselem reclassifying to the 2020 class and was followed by his decommitment from the Tigers.

Then, while he began to reel in interest from dozens of programs nationwide, he announced a top-3 list that included Alabama, LSU and Georgia in mid-April. That seemed to be it for many programs recruiting the Nigerian big man until he announced a new final-six list a couple of weeks later that included Arkansas, Kentucky, San Diego State, Seton Hall, Syracuse and Western Kentucky.

As Aztec faithful prepared to do battle with some of the sports biggest programs, an elite recruiter at Western Kentucky in Rick Stansbury and the former Mountain West transfer whisperer himself Eric Musselman, things took another turn. More than a month later we have another group of finalists as Anselem announced a scheduled commitment date of Wednesday June 3rd while also announcing the four schools he will decide between.

The final-4 include Georgia who was included in his initial top-3, Syracuse and San Diego state who were both mentioned in the top-6 that followed and lastly New Mexico who seemingly came out of nowhere at the last minute to get folks out in Albuquerque excited for a possible mid-week four-star commitment.

San Diego State and New Mexico both being in the running for the same top recruit is reminiscent of years past when recruiting battles between these two conference rivals took place annually and only provided an added element to an already competitive rivalry. With San Diego State securing the commitments of top-ranked high school players like Zylan Cheatham, Winston Shepard & Trey Kell over New Mexico. While the Lobos secured transfers like Elijah Brown and Tim Williams over the Aztecs.

Now, a commitment from Anselem may mean two very different things for these two teams. San Diego State is coming off of one of their most successful seasons in school history, but lose most of their size from this past season. They secured the commitment of Big Ten transfer Joshua Tomaic this past month, in hopes of producing the same impact SEC transfer Yanni Wetzell had in 2019-2020.

Though aside from Tomaic there hasn’t been many additions to the Aztec frontcourt this off-season. Anselem would be one of three scholarship players standing above 6-7, and while possibly returning Swiss army knife Matt Mitchell can certainly defend some opposing big men if needed, you have to prepare for scenarios that could deplete your depth, like injuries, transfers, etc.

NCAA Basketball: New Mexico at San Diego State

While if he were to choose New Mexico he would join a similar situation where the Lobos only have three clear big men on their roster but possibly have a little more wiggle room for quality minutes down low.

Paul Weir and company return only two returning starters (Zane Martin & Makuach Maluch) and only one player (Keith McGee) who saw double-digit minutes last season, none should see any minutes in the post come fall. So the Lobos have the ability to offer quality playing time right away compared to the Aztecs, who field Matt Mitchell and two probable starters in Tomaic and Nathan Mensah.

Either way you look at it, a commitment to either Mountain West team should mean playing time for Anselem. Now whether he plans to spend that time on the court in Albuquerque, which seems very probable or possibly battling for minutes on a conference front runner next season in San Diego seems to be the big question.

But you also shouldn’t forget that these two teams only have a 25% chance to land his services next season, they have to contend with two power-five powerhouses who have just as equal of a shot.

24/7 Sports Scouting report on Anselem: Athletic center with outstanding frame. Good size, wide shoulders and very long arms. Strong kid but not maxed out. Still raw on offense but physical tools give him very high upside. Has budding elbow jumper and hook shot but footwork and post moves can improve. Has a chance to be a high-level rebounder and rim protector given size, length, and athleticism. Still inconsistent but the upside is very high. Projects as high major starter with professional upside dependent on the development of skill.

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Boise State Adds Former USC Quarterback Jack Sears

The rich get richer with Boise State landing quarterback Jack Sears from USC.

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Boise State Adds Former USC Quarterback Jack Sears


The four-star was originally committed to San Diego State


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Sears stays within the conference

Boise State keeps on adding talent to its roster and the latest addition is a position in which the Broncos are fine. The latest player is former USC quarterback Jack Sears who is eligible immediately as a graduate transfer.

Sears was a four-star member of the Trojans’ 2017 recruiting class, rated as the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the country.

What makes this really interesting is that Sears was originally committed to San Diego State. However, that was when Rocky Long was the head coach but when Long stepped down so did Sears with his commitment to the Aztecs.

He did visit Northwestern and N.C. State but ultimately chose Boise State.

What is interesting in this commitment is that Boise State already has a starting quarterback in Hank Bachmeier who will be a sophomore. Odds are that Sears will not win the starting job which makes Sears commitment odd.

Why would Sears go to a place where he is all but assured to be the backup over a place where he could compete for the starting quarterback job.

Perhaps he wanted to go to a team that appeared in back-to-back conference title games and has a reputation? Or the team wants depth and Sears took that in and knowing he could see playing time if Bachmeier gets hurt.

Then there is current backup Chase Cord so is Sears going to be the third quarterback while battling for the backup position, or is Cord’s injury he suffered on Nov. 9 vs. Wyoming is more severe than people thought.

Boise State lands a former blue-chip recruit who will be used for depth and it keeps Sears away from other Mountain West schools who could have used a quarterback of his potential.

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Mountain West Basketball: Off Season Transfer Tracker 2019-2020

Departures around the conference and possible destinations. It is that time again, maybe a little earlier than normal but the off season is here and so the transfers begin. Contact/Follow @HardwoodTalk & @MWCwire Keep track of all basketball …

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Departures around the conference and possible destinations.


It is that time again, maybe a little earlier than normal but the off season is here and so the transfers begin.


Contact/Follow @HardwoodTalk & @MWCwire

Keep track of all basketball movement in and out of the conference.

College basketball’s end this past week is still a bit surreal, but as many players are already doing across the country we must plan for the future and continue coverage of the Mountain West with the current situation at hand.

So, with any tournament action or updates at a bit of a standstill, we look towards the players in this vacuum of basketball. And for those with eligibility left, this is the time to evaluate their current situations and make decisions.

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Still a point of conversation among the NCAA and player advocates, players themselves aren’t waiting around for any kind of new legislation or changes regarding their rights to transfer. As players around the country are already entering their names in the transfer portal as the 2019-2020 season comes to an end.

So we will have an ongoing transfer tracker of players leaving and entering the Mountain West going forward. So make sure to revisit this page all off season for updates as they happen.

Air Force

In: Kind of rare actually

Out: N/A

Boise State

In: N/A

Out: N/A

Colorado State

In: N/A

Out: N/A

Fresno State

In: N/A

Out:

Lozaro Rojas, Redshirt Junior Forward-Porto Seguro, Brazil

Years of Eligibility: 1

19-20 Stats: 1.0 PPG 1.2 RPG & 0.1 BPG in 10 games (0 starts)

Best Performance: 4 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist against Cal-State San Bernadino on Nov. 17th

Possible Destinations: No rumored interest at the time of this publication.

Rojas was buried behind a mountain of frontcourt depth this season after playing in twenty-seven games (2 starts) last season as one of only three players standing 6-7 or above on the roster. This season was a different story as there were three players standing 6-10 or above, not to mention three others at 6-7 or above. Stuck on the bench and only seeing action in ten games (5.1 MPG), it was time for a switch. As only senior Nate Grimes‘ graduation was guaranteed to free up minutes and local seven-footer Braxton Meah is set to arrive soon for next season, eating up more minutes.

New Mexico Football: Danny Gonzales’ First Recruiting Class Turns Heads And Keeps Promises

The New Mexico Lobos 2020 Recruiting Class Is Complete With 24 Signings. Class is complete with a high school focus and southwest feel. Contact/Follow @HardwoodTalk & @MWCwire Danny Gonzales completes his first recruiting class in Albuquerque, and …

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The New Mexico Lobos 2020 Recruiting Class Is Complete With 24 Signings.


Class is complete with a high school focus and southwest feel. 


Contact/Follow @HardwoodTalk & @MWCwire

Danny Gonzales completes his first recruiting class in Albuquerque, and it’s a good one. 

As we look towards the month of February and with National Signing Day officially in the rear view, coaching staffs can begin to regroup and look onward to spring practice. The Mountain West has welcomed four new head coaches to the conference this off season, some faces familiar and others not so much. But no matter the coach, job or school one thing remains and that’s national signing day.

Danny Gonzales is one of those familiar faces we mentioned earlier, an Albuquerque native who walked-on at New Mexico from near by Valley High School during the last years of Dennis Franchione’s tenure and in the Rocky Long’s first year in charge back in 1998. Long has had his own storied success with the Lobos as he has transitioned from player to head coach and now defensive coordinator almost fifty years later.

Gonzales has walked a similar path to Long’s and has enjoyed success in every role he’s taken while doing it. At New Mexico, San Diego State and most recently under Herm Edwards at Arizona State. Only failing to reach a bowl game in five of his 19 seasons on a collegiate coaching staff. Fans and administration are hoping he brings some of that winning pedigree to Dreamstyle Stadium this fall, everyone knows it’s overdue.

But the life blood of college football is still recruiting, and of course player development is another big component of on field success but still how do you mold that 6-4 210 pound kid from Lovington into that 6-4 255 pound NFL draft top-ten pick? Well you got to get him there first. And of course all eyes are on Danny Gonzales and his newly formed coaching staff to put together a strong first class and win down in Albuquerque.

Now let’s be a little realistic, Gonzales was hired back in mid-December. Right around the NCAA’s early signing period on December 19th. With only one player committed to the Lobos at the time in El Paso native Gabe Stonewall (a Bob Davie Commit, now commited to Lamar). It was a little hard to think he would put together a class to top the Mountain West recruiting rankings in just over a month and a half right?

But his first recruiting class at New Mexico is different, yes different in structure, origin and let’s say expectations than classes of years past. But you can attribute than directly to the man in charge and his former coach, mentor and boss who is now his employee.

Recruiting classes under Bob Davie and Mike Locksley before him tried, but often failed to have a local feel and representation to them. Both brought in local players, on scholarship and as walk-ons during their time in Albuquerque but a majority of the roster was made up of players from around the country. Locksley had connections back in the DMV (D.C., Maryland and Virginia area), which is where he brought in a lot of his players from. Davie whose connections were a bit broader brought in recruits from a little bit of everywhere.

That was completely fine but the New Mexican community like most around the country enjoy seeing homegrown kids on the field. Which has been a goal for Danny Gonzales since day one. To recruit not only regionally but locally in his home state and to give local players opportunities like the one that he was given over twenty-five years ago.

The class stands at twenty-four players signed to NLI’s after national signing day, it includes 7 Texans, 10 Californians, 3 Arizonians, 1 Louisianan and of course 2 New Mexicans. Those New Mexicans are Dion Hunter a linebacker out of Rio Rancho (Cleveland HS) and defensive end Bryce Santana of Los Lunas (Los Lunas HS). Besides a very southwest feel the recruiting class also lists only one junior college player in offensive lineman Isaak Gutierrez of Butte College. It is yet just another difference between the recruiting styles of old and new. As Davie and Locksley both heavily recruited the junior college ranks.

Next, the list:

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Mountain West Basketball Recruiting Round Up: Early Signing Period Edition

A Look At Recruiting Classes From Around The Mountain West Plenty of prospects signed early this year. Contact/Follow @HardwoodTalk & @MWCwire The Runnin’ Rebels have the highest ranked recruiting class in the Mountain West. We have created this …

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A Look At Recruiting Classes From Around The Mountain West


Plenty of prospects signed early this year.


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The Runnin’ Rebels have the highest ranked recruiting class in the Mountain West.  

We have created this list of players signed by coaching staffs in the early signing period so far for next season. Below is a list of each team and their signed players so far, with some info on that player and excerpts from head coaches on that signee.

Coaches aren’t allowed to comment on players who commit to a program throughout the year until they have received a signed National Letter of Intent from that prospect. Prospects can commit at anytime they want during the year and have two periods in which they can sign a letter of intent to play for that school.

The “early” signing period is a week long and started Nov. 13th and extended out to Nov. 20th. Most guys signed within the first two days of the week with only UNLV getting commitments and letters of intent signed after. The second signing period of the 2019-2020 season begins April 15th, 2020 and ends on May 20th, 2020.

Things To Note:

  • UNLV and first year head coach TJ Otzelberger have the largest signed group in the conference and the highest ranked. Otzelberger was able to keep a promise when it came to recruiting by getting local guys to sign with the Runnin’ Rebels. Half of his recruiting class is either from Nevada or have played high school basketball in Nevada.
  • Several teams have signed more prospects than they have seniors scheduled to leave, that means some current players will be expected to transfer.
  • Wyoming was the lone team without a commit or signee in the early signing period.
  • Air Force has 12 commits for the 2020 class per Verbal Commits. But with a complex system that includes possibly enrolling at Prep School and no confirmation of these commitments on the team’s website, they were excluded.

Boise State: 3 Signed

Bukre Smith 6-11 215 C Trinity Episcopal School-Glen Allen, VA

“Burke is extremely skilled for his size and his age,” Rice said. “Our program has always looked for skilled bigs to play our style and he does three things at a really advanced level that fit that mold: he shoots with range; he puts the ball on the floor, and he’s a very good passer. With his love for the game and outstanding work ethic he has a bright future at Boise State.” – Coach Rice

Kasean Pryor 6-9 179 SG Link Year Prep-Branson, MO

“Kasean is a long, athletic wing with huge upside,” Rice said. “He has a great combination of skill and feels not often seen in players his size. His game and body type is in the mold of James Webb and Derrick Alston, and he will be a tremendous fit in our system.” – Coach Rice

Jace Whiting 6-1 165 PG Burley HS-Burley ID 

“Jace has a great feel for the game and brings a tremendous amount of skill to the combo guard position,” Rice said. “It’s always important to keep the best players in the state at home and we’re excited to have Jace in our program.” – Coach Rice

Colorado State: 2 Signed

Isaiah Rivera 6-5 190 SF Geneseo High School-Geneseo, IL 

Jacob Jenniseen 6-1 205 C Sauk Centre Secondary-Sauk Centre, MN

Fresno State: 3 Signed

Braxton Meah 7-0 230 C San Joaquin Memorial HS-Fresno,CA

“Braxton is a 7-foot athlete, who can protect the rim and finish above the rim with the best of them,” Hutson said of Meah.  “He’s a local product and has been very well coached and developed. We are glad to be able to keep him home and our community will really enjoy watching him play.” -Coach Hutson

Leonardo Colimerio 6-7 180 SF Wasatch Academy-Mount Pleasant,UT

“Leo is a versatile, positionless basketball player,” Hutson said of Colimerio.  “Incoming from Brazil, he has an international feel for the game with great athleticism.  We look forward to him playing all over the floor.” – Coach Hutson

Destin Whitaker 6-5 185 SG Romeroville HS-Romeoville, IL

“Destin can really shoot it,” Hutson said.  “He comes from a basketball family and has been coached really well.  Destin has a high basketball IQ, and while his strength is shooting, he is very versatile.” -Coach Hutson

Nevada: 4 Signed

Tre Coleman 6-7 185 SF Jeffersonville HS-Jeffersonville, IN

“Tre is a big athletic wing who can defend all over the court.  He gives us a ton of versatility. A high-level athlete who will bring energy on both sides of the ball.” – Coach Alford 

Alem Huseinovic 6-3 180 SG PHHoenix Prep-Scottsdale, AZ

“Alem is a tough, heady shooting guard.  He really knows how to create and make shots.  A fierce competitor who really knows how to play.” – Coach Alford 

DeAndre Henry 6-7 225 PF PHHoenix Prep-Phoenix, AZ 

“Dre has a tremendous ceiling as a basketball player.  He is a strong and athletic player who loves to compete at both ends of the floor.  He will improve daily due to how hard he works.” – Coach Alford 

Jelani Clark 6-2 180 SG Archbishop Riordan HS-San Francisco, CA

“Je’Lani is a high energy, high motor player.  He has a very high basketball IQ and is committed to being a great player.  He has the ability to lead a team and program.” – Coach Alford 

Daniel Foster 6-6 185 PG Golden State Preparatory School (CA)-Melbourne, AUS

“Daniel is a versatile guard who can play a variety of positions.  A tough-minded competitor who knows how to play the game. We’ve had tremendous success with Australian born players.” – Coach Alford 

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