Utes football: Previewing the 2024 schedule with a look at Utah State, Oklahoma State


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Estimated read time: 7-8 minutes

Editor's note: Read the schedule preview of Southern Utah and Baylor in Part 1 here.

SALT LAKE CITY β€” We continue down Utah's 2024 schedule with two more opponents β€” the final nonconference game against an in-state rival and the first conference game of Utah's Big 12 era.

Listen to a breakdown of these games weekly on the Utah Checkdown podcast.

Utah State Aggies

Date: Saturday, Sept. 14 (2:30 p.m. MDT, CBSSN)
Location: Maverick Stadium, Logan, UT

2023 record: 6-7 (4-4 MWC)
Last meeting: Sept. 11, 2015, Salt Lake City; Utah won 24-14
Preseason win projection: 5.5 wins

Utah State has been hit hard by the transfer portal the last couple seasons, leaving the program with little consistency year over year. It's becoming the reality of Group of Five programs as teams in the Power Four look to add talent to their roster.

Despite that new reality, head coach Blake Anderson continues to find a way to bring on talent and put together a team that seemingly overachieves expectations, earning a bowl bid the last three seasons. Can he make it a fourth straight season?

The Aggies lost 25 players to the transfer portal, including five players that made the jump to the P4 level, and brought in 22 players through the portal. That's enough change to leave outsiders guessing as to what Utah State will be capable of for the 2024 season. But that happens each year and the Aggies find a way.

That all starts at quarterback, where the Aggies lost McCae Hillstead (BYU) and Cooper Legas (Tulsa) to the transfer portal, but brought on four different signal callers into the mix β€” including former Utah quarterback Bryson Barnes.

Former Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras, who was part of an inept offensive scheme with the Hawkeyes, is the projected starter for the Aggies, but Barnes, Jacob Conover (Arizona State) and CJ Tiller (Boise State) will be in the mix β€” because Anderson never closes the door.

Petras hasn't been on the field since 2022 after missing the 2023 season with shoulder surgery. In 2022, Petras finished with 1,725 passing yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions, with a 55.9% completion percentage. For context, Legas threw for 1,815 yards and 19 touchdowns for the Aggies last season in nine games.

Petras will need to have better numbers if Utah State wants to make noise in the Mountain West, especially under an offensive scheme that is relatively pass heavy under Anderson's play-calling.

Fortunately for the Aggies, they return their best receiver in Jalen Royals, who finished last season with 1,080 yards and 15 touchdowns, as well as Micah Davis, who added 628 yards and six touchdowns. The two remain the biggest threats in the passing game and worthy of extra attention (and NFL aspirations).

The Aggies took a hit when it lost leading rusher Davon Booth to Mississippi State, but Rahsul Faison (he initially tested the transfer portal waters before returning) and Robert Briggs Jr. can get the job done in the run game. Faison, in particular, is a name to watch after averaging 6.3 yards per carry last season.

It's an offense with a lot of returning experience and a seemingly more stable quarterback in the mix to get the job done.

On the defensive side of the ball, it's all about standout safety Ike Larson, who is a do-it-all player with tremendous upside. Larson was a coveted name heading into the offseason after a stellar season, but the Smithfield native stayed home and never entered the portal (despite rumblings he would).

Larson is a menace on defense (and the highest-graded Aggies defender in PFF), where he finished with 103 tackles, six pass breakups, 4.5 tackles for loss, and four interceptions β€” including a pick six. For good measure, he also recorded a forced fumble and had two kicks blocked.

Even with Larson leading the defense, the Aggies have struggled to counteract opposing offenses. The team allowed, on average, 34.7 points per game and 433.1 total yards of offense β€” a bottom 15 team in FBS. Its rushing defense was the fifth worst in FBS and averaged a whopping 213.5 yards per game.

Anderson hired Nate Dreiling as the team's new defensive coordinator, the former DC at New Mexico State, to help fix the problem. But over the last five seasons, the Aggies have struggled to put together a worthy defense, ranking near the bottom of the FBS during that time.

Until the Aggies can get markedly better on defense (and assuming its offense continues to produce) the team will continue to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. Catch the Aggies at the right time and it could be a close game β€” especially at home β€” or it could be a blowout. There's not a lot of in between with the Aggies.

Offense (2023 stats)

Scoring: 33.2 points (26.5 five-year average)
Rushing: 184.4 yards (156.3)
Passing: 254.2 yards (233.5)
Total offense: 438.6 (389.9)

Defense (2023 stats)

Scoring: 34.7 points (31.2 five-year average)
Rushing: 213.5 yards (199.2)
Passing: 219.6 yards (230.8)
Total defense: 433.1 yards (430.0)

Utes football: Previewing the 2024 schedule with a look at Utah State, Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Date: Saturday, Sept. 21 (TBA)
Location: Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, OK

2023 record: 10-3 (7-2 Big 12)
Final AP ranking: No. 16
Last meeting: Oct. 20, 1945, Salt Lake City; Oklahoma State won 46-6
Preseason win projection: 7.5 wins

Regardless of what happens in the nonconference slate for the Utes, the Utah-Oklahoma State game becomes one of the biggest (and potentially most important) early matchups of the season in the Big 12. Both programs will be projected somewhere in the top few spots of the conference, with a real shot at a conference title.

Will this be Utah making a statement in their new conference or Oklahoma State showing the Utes the way of the Big 12? And with this game in Stillwater, it's likely a scheduled loss for the Utes (with Vegas on the side of the Cowboys, too).

Oklahoma State goes into the 2024 season as one of the most experienced teams in the conference β€” Phil Steele ranks the Cowboys the No. 1 team in the country in returning experience with 19 starters back, including Heisman contender running back Ollie Gordon II.

Everything begins with Gordon, who comes off a 2023 season in which he led the country with 1,732 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, earning him the Doak Walker and Earl Campbell Tyler Rose awards (to say nothing of him being named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year). There's reason to believe he's due for another big season.

Pair that with returning wide receivers Brennan Presley and Rashod Owens, who combined for 1,896 yards and 11 touchdowns, and an offensive line that returns all five starters in what Phil Steele believes is the fourth-best line in the country, as well as seventh-year quarterback Alan Bowman, and Oklahoma State becomes a major threat on offense.

Bowman isn't considered a top-tier quarterback, but with an experienced line protecting him (and the weapons around him), it's easy to see how he put up big numbers in 2023 β€” 3,460 passing yards and 15 touchdowns on 60.7% completion. But Bowman also managed 14 interceptions β€” a number that ranks among the highest in Power Four starting quarterbacks.

The Cowboys offense is expected to be one of the best in the Big 12 this season, but Bowman's penchant for turnovers could spell trouble.

Oklahoma State returns nine starters on defense, but was one of the worst teams in FBS (No. 125 out of 133 teams) in total defense last season with an average of 441.8 yards allowed per game. That's one of the worst of Mike Gundy's program in at least the last five seasons (though the 2022 squad was similar).

Continuity and experience will be key on defense, however, and there seemingly has to be improvement made in 2024.

Up front, the defensive line loses two quality and highest-graded defensive ends β€” Anthony Goodlow and Nathan Latu β€” but returns nose tackle Justin Kirkland as the highest-graded player on the line. Still, the defensive line should see improvement but remains the biggest question initially.

At linebacker, Oklahoma State is led by Nick Martin, who recorded 140 tackles last season, and Collin Oliver, who grades out as the team's best pass rusher and best in coverage, according to PFF. Oliver, though, had one of the worst tackling grades on the team.

This unit, however, is expected to be among the best in Gundy's long tenure at Oklahoma State and is ranked the fifth-best in the country, according to Phil Steele.

The Cowboys' secondary gave up 275.0 passing yards per game last season (No. 126 out of 133 teams) but features quality corners in Korie Black and Cam Smith β€” both of which limited opposing quarterbacks when thrown their way. And with two returning safeties β€” Dylan Smith and Trey Rucker β€” there's belief this group will improve.

Oklahoma State is a formidable foe, especially at home, and will likely be one of the toughest games on Utah's schedule. Though Kansas State (and some others) will be in the mix for a Big 12 title, this game will likely be similar to what Utah's matchups used to be with USC, in which the winner takes a big step forward in getting to the conference title game.

Offense (2023 stats)

Scoring: 29.6 points (30.8 five-year average)
Rushing: 155.3 yards (176.5)
Passing: 276.5 yards (250.2)
Total offense: 431.8 (426.8)

Defense (2023 stats)

Scoring: 28.6 points (25.2 five-year average)
Rushing: 166.8 yards (150.2)
Passing: 275.0 yards (243.1)
Total defense: 441.8 yards (393.3)

Utes football: Previewing the 2024 schedule with a look at Utah State, Oklahoma State

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Josh is the Sports Director for KSL.com and beat writer covering University of Utah athletics β€” primarily football, men’s and women's basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 voter for college football.

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