PULLMAN – In preparing for their Week 1 opponent, the Washington State Cougars know they can’t rely much on last season’s game film.
Utah State, which meets WSU on Saturday in Pullman, brings with it an entirely new coaching staff, composed of various football backgrounds. And it’s not only that.
The Aggies’ roster, too, has evolved in a major way.
Utah State hit the NCAA transfer portal hard in recruiting this offseason and leaned on coaching connections to come up with 15 newcomers from FBS programs. Yes, that’s quite a haul.
Several will make their Aggies debuts as starters this weekend.
What follows is a rundown of Utah State’s most important newcomers, Division I transfers WSU should be highlighting ahead of its season opener.
Justin Rice, linebacker, Arkansas State
It’s unlikely that any other first-year Aggies player has more of an impact this season than Rice.
The graduate middle linebacker has been among the Group of Five’s most talented defenders for the past two years.
In 2020, Rice was a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award, given each year to the top defensive player in the country. The Red Wolves’ best pound-for-pound player posted 76 tackles, including an nation-best 18.5 for loss and seven sacks.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder landed on the All-Sun Belt first team after his first season at Arkansas State, and reportedly drew significant interest from NFL scouts.
When Red Wolves coach Blake Anderson was hired to take the reins at Utah State in December, Rice was one of four A-State players to join him.
In 2019, Rice broke out, captaining Fresno State. He registered 112 tackles en route to a first-team All-Mountain West nod.
The following summer, Rice was named the MWC’s preseason defensive player of the year. But the conference’s season was delayed because of COVID-19, so he left the school seeking a new home where he could play a season that would be less disrupted by the pandemic, according to 247Sports.com.
WSU coach Nick Rolovich and offensive coordinator Brian Smith ran into Rice’s Fresno State teams when the two coached at Hawaii before shipping off to Pullman.
“I knew he was a talented player, and I know they’ll rely on him,” Smith said.
Anderson compared Rice to mainstay WSU linebacker Jahad Woods, a 40-game Cougars starter. Both standouts have “a nose for the ball” and embrace a “coach on the field” type of role, Anderson said during a news conference Monday.
Logan Bonner, quarterback, Arkansas State
Like WSU, the Aggies’ situation at quarterback is unresolved.
Bonner followed coach Anderson out of Arkansas State to challenge returner Andrew Peasley for the starting job.
On Utah State’s official Week 1 depth chart, the two juniors are listed side-by-side as potential starters.
Anderson said there’s a “real chance” both play Saturday, but he’d prefer that didn’t happen.
If Cougs coach Nick Rolovich had to guess, he’d probably expect to see Bonner with the first team.
“The quarterback that came over shows a lot of ability, a lot of talent,” Rolovich said.
“He did a nice job at Arkansas State – ran that system very well.”
In contrast to Peasley’s mobile style, Bonner is a pure pocket-passer – in 24 career games, he’s rushed for 62 yards.
The 6-1, 230-pounder was mostly efficient in Anderson’s up-tempo, quick-release offense at Arkansas State. The same system has been introduced at Utah State.
In 15 starts between 2019-20, Bonner passed for 2,915 yards on a 59.5% completion rate, producing 11.8 yards per completion. He totaled 28 touchdowns against seven interceptions.
Bonner, an All-SBC honorable mention last year, sustained a season-ending foot injury after four starts to begin the 2019 season. He went 91 of 153, accumulating 1,052 yards, 10 touchdowns and just one interception despite the limited playing time.
Anderson said he was thoroughly impressed by Peasley’s spring and fall camp performances, yet it’s worth wondering whether the Aggies would be better off starting a quarterback who’s been fully accustomed to Anderson’s offense for a few years.
Byron Vaughns, defensive end, Texas
Vaughns was good enough as a redshirt freshman in 2019 to see the field in 10 games for the Longhorns.
The 6-4, 230-pound junior edge-rusher totaled 14 tackles that year, then disappeared from the roster ahead of Texas’ 2020 campaign for unspecified reasons.
His name resurfaced in the transfer portal in October, and three months later, he pledged to join Utah State under its new staff.
Vaughns is listed on the Aggies’ depth chart as a co-starter alongside third-year starter Nick Heninger, an honorable mention All-MWC pick last year.
The Fort Worth, Texas, native was a three-star recruit at Eastern Hills, and ranked the No. 53 overall college prospect in the powerhouse Lone Star State by 247Sports.com.
Patrick Joyner Jr., defensive end, Miami
Joyner finished his prep career in Florida as a four-star prospect (ESPN) and was considered a top-40 edge-rusher in the country by ESPN and 247Sports.com.
Utah State would do well to unlock the former Hurricane’s full potential.
Joyner played at Miami from 2018-20, but appeared in just nine games. He was hampered by an injury in 2019.
The 6-2, 230-pound junior is a first-stringer for the Aggies.
New Utah State defensive coordinator Ephraim Banda previously served as Miami’s co-DC/safeties coach for the past five seasons. Joyner accompanied Banda to Logan, Utah.
Joyner and Vaughns will square off against reliable WSU tackles in seniors Abe Lucas and Liam Ryan.
“There’s certainly going to be some good guys out there that we’re going to have to game plan for,” Lucas said. “But we treat it as any other day, not letting it get too big and also not overlooking to the next opponent.”
Quazzel White, guard, TCU
Four years ago, White was generally regarded as the No. 1 high school guard in Washington.
The product of Tacoma’s Lincoln High ended up at Texas Christian, where he appeared in 21 games from 2017-20.
The 6-3, 310-pounder made three starts at tackle as a sophomore in 2019, then flipped back to his natural position and began last season as a starter before an injury cut his campaign short.
White will start at right guard Saturday, when he returns to his home state.
Calvin Tyler Jr., running back, Oregon State
Though he was used sparingly at OSU, Tyler’s experience at the Pac-12 level makes him a valuable addition.
The junior, who will line up as Utah State’s Week 1 starter at running back, spent the past four seasons training with the Beavers. He returned kicks here and there and rotated sporadically in the Beavers’ backfield.
Tyler saw the field in only nine games, but wasn’t a complete nonfactor.
He logged 124 yards on 30 carries during his OSU career and scored his first two career touchdowns against Utah last year.
At 5-8 and 210 pounds, the Texan packs a decent punch and can break big runs outside.
Four years ago, he was rated the No. 18 all-purpose prep back in the nation by 247Sports.com.
Tyler was expected to be a rotational player this season. Devonta’e Henry-Cole, a senior and the team’s top returning rusher, is absent from the depth chart for unspecified reasons.
The Aggies’ premier back last year, Jaylen Warren, transferred to Oklahoma State in the offseason.
“I’ll be interested to see what they do at running back,” Rolovich said Monday. “On offense, I think they got some weapons, for sure.”
Brandon Bowling, wide receiver, Arkansas State
An elusive pass-catcher out of the slot, Bowling supplied extra depth to an already crowded receiver room when he committed to Utah State in January.
Bowling (5-9, 185 pounds) will split starting reps with electric program vet Deven Thompkins.
The senior was an All-SBC honorable mention last season, his most productive year . Starting nine of Arkansas State’s 11 games, Bowling snagged 39 receptions for 507 yards and seven touchdowns.
It helps that he and Bonner have a strong rapport.
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