From left to right — former Utah QB Bryson Barnes, USU QBs Cooper Legas and McCae Hillstead, and former Iowa QB Spencer Petras
LOGAN – The Blake Anderson-coached Utah State football teams have seen a lot of different players take snaps at quarterback. Every one of Anderson’s three seasons in Logan have featured at least three QBs either starting or playing extended snaps. Six different signal-callers have lined up behind center in Anderson’s offense (Logan Bonner, Andrew Peasley, Cooper Legas, Bishop Davenport, McCae Hillstead, Levi Williams) with five of those starting at least one game.
That list, and the accompanying trend, could continue and get bigger in 2024.
Two of the three QBs that started at some point last season, Legas and Hillstead, are expected to return (Legas even posted on his social media that he plans on coming back for one final year), with a pair of Power Five starters incoming via the transfer portal — Spencer Petras, formerly of Iowa, and Bryson Barnes, the walk-on turned starter from the University of Utah.
Petras spent six years on the roster at Iowa, appearing in 36 total games, 31 of those being starts. Iowa went 20-11 with Petras in those starts and were ranked (by both the AP Poll and CFB Playoff Poll) in the final week of each seasons in which he was the primary starter. The Hawkeyes’ good seasons were more a product of its defenses, but Iowa has been infamous for its poor offensive schemes that hamstring quarterbacks. The emphasis on the run game and lack of great wide receivers likely played a major roll in why Petras hasn’t eclipsed 2,000 passing yards in any of his seasons as primary starter (he would have likely done so in 2020 had Iowa played more than eight games in the COVID-shortened season.
Barnes’ story is well-chronicled and likely well-known to Aggie fans as the Milford native became a walk-on-to-starter sensation with the Utes. With star QB Cam Rising spending the entire season on the bench, Utah had to turn to Barnes, who came through in big ways. He threw for 235 yards and had four total touchdowns in the Utes’ win over at-the-time 18th ranked USC. In addition to having decent passing stats (a career 60 percent completion percentage and 170 passing yards per game as a starter), Barnes has also shown an ability to run the ball himself, with 391 career rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.
Throughout Anderson’s three seasons, there’s been multiple QB controversies along with a need for backups to play extended snaps. His tenure began with Bonner and Peasley splitting snaps in the first few games, both having heroic moments but ultimately ending with Bonner being the primary starter. Still, in the LA Bowl then-sophomore Legas had to step in because of injuries to both Peasley and Bonner and threw his famous first career pass.
In 2022, the Aggies saw snaps taken by four different QBs throughout the season. Bonner started, but injury eventually gave way to Legas, then Williams, and eventually even true freshman Davenport. And in 2023, there was the back-and-forth between Hillstead and Legas before injuries forced Anderson to turn back to Williams again late in the year.
Even if there’s one clear starter, history strongly suggests there will be a need for competent backups, potentially in the biggest games of the year. Anderson’s recruiting strategy at quarterback could simply be doing the math on how many experienced QBs he needs to make it through a season.