After 3 years at Utah State, how is Blake Anderson viewed?

Utah State head coach Blake Anderson watches from the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Iowa, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Iowa City, Iowa.
Utah State head coach Blake Anderson watches from the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Iowa, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Iowa City, Iowa. | Charlie Neibergall

This fall, Blake Anderson will be in his fourth season as the head football coach of the Utah State Aggies.

It has been a tenure marked by the highest of highs — remember the 2021 Mountain West Conference championship and subsequent dominant bowl win over Oregon State?

There has also been a lot of mediocrity, though, with back-to-back 6-7 campaigns. Given the roster turnover between the 2022 and 2023 seasons, last year’s losing record was understandable. The Aggies’ record in 2022, with a great deal of the 2021 title team back, much less so.

There has been real life changing tragedy, too. Anderson’s son Robert Cason Anderson died by suicide at 21 years old in February of 2022 and his older brother Bryan Scott Anderson died by cancer this spring.

There has also been life affirming news, with Anderson and his wife Brittany Anderson announcing in January that they expecting a child.

All of which is to say, it has been a whirlwind few years in Logan for Anderson, on and off the field.

On the field, given three straight bowl game appearances by the Aggies and a program-first MW title, how is Anderson considered? Is he a top Group of Five head coach? An average coach? Something else altogether?

According to CBS Sports’ rankings of all 66 G5 head coach, Anderson is a good coach, though not one of the elite at the G5 level.

Anderson comes in at No. 17 among G5 head coaches in the rankings, with David Cobb noting that Anderson is at best, “treading water” at Utah State.

As a result, Anderson comes in behind five MW head coaches — Fresno State’s Jeff Tedford, the Air Force Academy’s Troy Calhoun, New Mexico’s Bronco Mendenhall, San Diego State’s Sean Lewis and UNLV’s Barry Odom.

Hurting Anderson’s standing a bit — beyond the consecutive 6-7 seasons — was the end of his tenure at Arkansas State.

Prior to Anderson, coaches like Gus Malzahn, Hugh Freeze and Bryan Harsin all had considerable success with the Red Wolves, both on the field and in production of NFL prospects.

Malzahn parlayed his success at Arkansas State to the head coaching job at Auburn (he is now at UCF), and Freeze did the same thing, landing the Ole Miss job (he is now at Auburn).

And while Harsin didn’t land a Power conference job out of Arkansas State, he did get the Boise State job, which he then turned into the Auburn head coaching job.

Anderson didn’t reach those heights though, and under him, writes CBS Sports’ Shehan Jeyarajah, Arkansas State was consistently good, but not at prior levels. The program also struggled to bring in the types of talent it had in previous regimes.

“Anderson brought consistency, but eventually the talent pipeline slowed,” Jeyarajah writes. “The Red Wolves have not produced an NFL Draft pick since Ryan Carrethers in 2014.”

Compared to previous USU head coaches — Gary Anderson and Matt Wells, specifically — Anderson has avoided the real gut wrenching lows and has hit notable highs, but he knows that he has to win more.

Losing seasons won’t cut it at Utah State anymore, even though the program is regularly earning bowl appearances and there has been drastic upheaval across the roster year to year.

“Wins are really what matters,” Anderson said in December, following the end of the 2023 season.

Wins — or the lack thereof — are why Anderson is considered a good G5 head coach right now, though not a great one. That view of him is subject to change depending on what the Aggies pull off in 2024.

Utah State kicks off the 2024 season on Aug. 31 at home against Robert Morris, then goes on to play back-to-back Power Four opponents in USC (in Los Angeles) and Utah (in Logan).