It’s week 0 of the 2022 college football season and that brings us a non-conference slate between one of the nation’s lone remaining independent programs and one from the Mountain West out in the Beehive State. The UConn Huskies are on the road as they try to start the year off right when they take on the Utah State Aggies Saturday afternoon. UConn finished the 2021 campaign 1-11 and clearly out of bowl contention. Utah State closed the season 11-3 and beat Oregon State 24-13 in the LA Bowl. That helped propel the Aggies to 24th in the final rankings for the 2021 season. These teams have met just once before as Division I opponents with Utah State picking up a 38-31 victory on the road on November 10, 2001.
UConn Huskies Hoping for Brighter DaysUConn finished 2021 with a dismal 1-11 record with their lone triumph coming over FCS program Yale by six. The team saw Randy Edsall resign after just two games and then went 1-9 under interim coach Lou Spanos. This season, it will be former UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr. running the program in an effort to create some optimism for the Huskies. Already though, there are questions about the coaching staff as Spanos, who was the defensive coordinator for Mora at UCLA and remained with the team after last season, announced last week that he was stepping away for personal reasons. The program has not named a replacement for him. Mora Jr. has his work cut out for him as the Huskies were dismal on both sides of the ball this season and there is work to be done to even be considered relevant on the college football landscape.
The Huskies finished last season 116th in the FBS in passing offense with 164.2 yards per game while they were 122nd in rushing offense with 100.8 yards per game on the ground. UConn was 129th in the FBS in scoring offense with 15.6 points per game while they were 123rd in scoring defense by allowing 38.5 points per contest. Tyler Phommachanh was 35 of 72 for 321 yards with one touchdown against two interceptions while getting sacked five times last season. He is the top returning QB from a season ago. Penn State transfer Ta’Quan Roberson (11 of 28, 85 yards, TD, two INT, 24 rush yards) entered via the transfer portal and is expected to be the starter here. Nathan Carter led the team on the ground last season with 125 carries for 578 yards plus a pair of scores. Robert Burns (12 carries, 45 yards) is likely the next back in line. Aaron Turner led the team last year with 33 receptions for 232 yards this season. Keelan Marion (28 receptions, 474 yards, team-high five TD), Cameron Ross (eight grabs, 60 yards), tight end Brandon Niemenski (12 catches, 122 yards, TD) and Kevens Clercius (20 grabs, 260 yards, three TD) should also be factors in the passing game. Joe McFadden hit all 19 extra point attempts and 12 of 17 field goal attempts with a long of 47 last season.
Utah State Aggies Looking to Contend in Mountain West AgainUtah State finished the 2021 campaign 11-3 overall and went 7-2 in the Mountain West, earning the top spot in the Mountain Division. The Aggies bombed San Diego State 46-13 in the Mountain West title game and then beat Oregon State in the LA Bowl to cap the season on a positive note. It was a terrific first year in Blake Anderson’s first year running the show in Logan and expectations are high again in 2022. Utah State brings back plenty of firepower offensively with their starting quarterback, running back and four starters from the offensive line returning. They will have to replace Deven Thompkins, who reeled in 102 passes for 1,704 yards and 10 scores a season ago.
Last year, the Aggies were 15th in the nation in passing offense as they averaged 303.4 yards per game through the air and stood 85th in rushing offense with 142.1 yards per contest. Utah State was 45th in the FBS in scoring offense with 32.6 points per game while they finished 48th in scoring defense as they allow an average of 24.4 points per contest. Logan Bonner completed 263 of 430 passes for 3,628 yards with 36 touchdowns and 12 interceptions on the season. He added 66 yards on the ground. Calvin Tyler Jr. led the team on the ground with 196 carries for 884 yards plus seven scores last season. John Gentry (66 carries, 235 yards) is the next leading returning rusher from last season. Justin McGriff (35 receptions, 414 yards, six TD) is the team’s leading returning receiver. Brian Cobbs, who caught 25 passes for 341 yards and a score at Maryland last season, will likely slot into a starting role, as will Kyle VanLeeuwen (eight receptions, 63 yards) to help Bonner excel in the passing game. Connor Coles was 52 of 54 on extra points and 20 of 29 on field goal attempts with a long of 52 last season. Distance kicking has been a bit of an issue as Coles was just five of 10 from 40 to 49 yards and one of three from beyond 50 yards last season.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
Let’s face it, UConn is a doormat and as the saying goes, even if you polish a turd, it’s still a turd. Such is the football program with the Huskies. UConn hasn’t had a winning season since 2010 and they haven’t won more than three games in a season since 2015. Jim Mora Jr. might be able to restore some credibility to the program but it is clearly going to take time to try and make them remotely respectable. Utah State has to replace Thompkins, Brandon Bowling and Derek Wright, who combined to reel in 206 passes for 3,328 yards and 31 scores a season ago. However, the Aggies have plenty of talent to work with offensively. Having Bonner and Tyler Jr. back plus four starting offensive linemen against a pathetic UConn defense means that the Aggies should move the ball at will. Utah State wins this one in a romp.
Full-Game Total Pick
UConn saw the over post a 6-5-1 mark in their 12 games last season. The Huskies did see the over go 3-0-1 in their final four games of the season and it was 3-2-1 in their six road tilts. After seeing the under hit in five of their first eight games, the Huskies saw totals of 57, 51, 66 and 62 points in the final four contests. Utah State is an explosive team with their no-huddle, spread offense attack. The Aggies actually saw the under go 8-6 in their 14 games in 2021 though six of the unders came in games with a number set at 64.5 points or higher. Utah State scored at least 35 points in seven games last season. Facing a weak Connecticut defense means Utah State could hang a 40-burger or a 50-burger here. This one just gets over the total as UConn tops out at 14 points or so.