LAS VEGAS (ABC 4 Sports) - Utah State football has been picked second in the Mountain Division of the 2013 Mountain West Conference preseason polls it was announced Monday at the league's annual Media Days held here at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.
Utah State also had two players honored during the league’s preseason meetings as senior center Tyler Larsen and sophomore linebacker Kyler Fackrell were both named to the league’s 25-player preseason first-team.
As for individual honors, Fresno State senior quarterback Derek Carr was named the MW’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, while FS junior defensive back Derron Smith was named the MW’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year and New Mexico junior Chase Clayton was named the MW’s Preseason Special Teams Player of the Year.
The season marks the first time in conference history for divisional play. Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, New Mexico, Utah State and Wyoming make up the Mountain Division, with Fresno State, Hawai’i, Nevada, San Diego State, San Jose State and UNLV comprising the West Division. The two divisional winners will meet in the inaugural MW Championship Game, which will be held on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013 at the home stadium of the divisional champion with the highest BCS ranking.
Defending league co-champion Boise State was tabbed as the preseason favorite in the Mountain Division as they garnered 40 first-place votes and 245 points after finishing the 2012 season with a 7-1 MW mark (11-2 overall) and playing in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. USU received one first-place vote and 204 points for second-place in the Mountain Division, followed by Air Force (143 pts.), Wyoming (116 pts.), Colorado State (90 pts.) and New Mexico (63 pts.).
Fresno State was the preseason favorite in the West Division with 39 first-place votes and 243 points after finishing 2012 with a 7-1 MW mark (9-4 overall) and playing in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. San Diego State was second with one first-place vote and 181 points, while fellow MW newcomer San Jose State was tabbed third also with one first-place vote and 172 points. Nevada was picked fourth with 135 points, followed by UNLV (71 pts.) and Hawai’i (59 pts.).
Utah State is entering its first season in the Mountain West after winning the Western Athletic Conference in 2012 with a perfect 6-0 record (11-2 overall) and defeating Toledo, 41-15, in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. USU ended the year ranked No. 16 in the Associated Press Poll and No. 17 in the final ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Poll after setting a single-season school record for wins.
Utah State’s offense in 2012 ended up being one of the best in school history, statistically, as it set single-season school records for total points (454), total offense (6,108 yards), completions (285), completion percentage (.679), total yards per game (469.8) and total yards per attempt (6.83), while ranking second in points per game (34.9), total passing yards (3,445), first downs (272) and touchdowns (59).
Nationally, Utah State’s 2012 offense ranked second in the WAC and 23rd in the country in total offense (469.8 ypg), second in the WAC and 18th in the nation in passing (153.21), second in the WAC and 25th in the nation in rushing offense (204.8 ypg), third in the WAC and 31st in the nation in sacks allowed (1.38 pg), third in the WAC and 33rd in the nation in scoring offense (34.9 ppg), and third in the WAC and 39th in the nation in passing offense (265.0 ypg).
Utah State’s 2012 defense ranked among the top 15 in the nation in five different statistical categories, including being ranked first in the WAC and seventh in the nation in scoring defense (15.38 ppg), which is the fewest by an Aggie defense since 1965. USU also ranked second in the WAC and tied for sixth nationally in sacks (3.23 pg), first in the WAC and 10th in the nation in pass efficiency defense (104.43), second in the WAC and 13th in the country in rushing defense (113.77 ypg), first in the WAC and 15th in the nation in total defense (322.08 ypg), and first in the WAC and 32nd in the nation in passing defense (208.31 ypg). USU’s defense also led the WAC and ranked second in the nation in red zone efficiency at 63.6 percent allowing just 13 touchdowns and 15 field goals on 44 trips inside the 20.
Larsen, a 6-4, 312-pounder from Salt Lake City, Utah (Jordan HS) enters his senior season having started 38 consecutive games, which is the longest active streak in the Mountain West and tied for the fifth-longest active streak in the nation. Larsen is a two-time first-team all-Western Athletic Conference honoree and the first USU offensive lineman to accomplish that feat since 1997.
During the 2012 season, Larsen tied for the team lead along with Schultz with an 86 percent overall performance grade, including 78 percent in technique and 83 percent in effort. He carried out the right assignment 97 percent of the time, including four games where he graded out at a perfect 100 percent. He also graded out above 90 percent two times in total performance and above 80 percent 12 times in effort and seven times in technique. Overall, he posted 65.5 knockdowns on the season.
Fackrell, a 6-5, 245-pounder from Mesa, Ariz. (Mesa HS) earned first-team all-WAC honors and was the first Aggie in school history named a Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) Freshman All-American a year ago as he finished the season ranking second on the team and eighth in the WAC with three interceptions (0.23 pg), third on the team and 13th in the WAC with 8.0 tackles for loss (0.62 pg), and fourth on the team and 13th in the WAC with 87 tackles (6.7 pg). Those 87 stops rank tied for third all-time at Utah State among freshmen. He also finished second on the team with seven quarterback hurries, to go along with 3.0 sacks and three pass breakups.
Overall, Fackrell is one of just three sophomores named to the MW preseason team along with Fresno State wide receiver Davante Adams and San Jose State placekicker Austin Lopez.
Utah State returns 49 lettermen (offense-23, defense-22, specialists-4) and 18 starters (offense-8, defense-7, specialists-3) from its most successful team in school history as USU ended the 2012 season with a school-best 11-2 record as it set school records for wins (11) and home wins (6), while recording just its second bowl win in school history with a 41-15 victory against Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. USU also won its first outright conference championship since 1936, as it went 6-0 in the Western Athletic Conference, and just its third in school history joining the 1921 and 1936 teams that both won Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference titles.
Other offensive starters returning for the Aggies include junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton (Houston, Texas/Cypress Creek HS), senior guard Jamie Markosian (Salt Lake City, Utah/Juan Diego HS); senior wide receiver Travis Reynolds (Lauderdale Lakes, Fla./Boyd Anderson HS); senior tackle Eric Schultz (Connell, Wash./Connell HS); senior tight end D.J. Tialavea (West Jordan, Utah/West Jordan HS); junior offensive tackle Kevin Whimpey (Highland, Utah/Idaho State); and senior offensive guard Kyle Whimpey (Highland, Utah/Idaho State).
Other defensive starters returning for Utah State in 2013 include senior linebacker Jake Doughty (Draper, Utah/Juan Diego HS); junior nose guard Elvis Kamana-Matagi (Maui, Hawaii/King Kekaulike HS); senior cornerback Nevin Lawson (Lauderhill, Fla./Piper HS); junior safety Brian Suite (Honolulu, Hawaii/Punahou HS); junior linebacker Zach Vigil (Clearfield, Utah/Clearfield HS); and senior defensive end Connor Williams (Kanata, Ontario, Canada/Holy Trinity HS)
Utah State will open the 2013 season on Thursday, Aug. 29 at Utah and play its first Mountain West game the following weekend at Air Force on Saturday, Sept. 7. USU's first home game of the 2013 campaign will be on Saturday, Sept. 14 against Weber State, while its first home Mountain West game will be on Saturday, Oct. 12 against Boise State.