Recent additions at QB give Utah State back some depth, but not experience, lost to transfer portal | Sports

LOGAN — Just days into the spring transfer window, Utah State’s quarterback depth chart had taken a massive hit with the losses of Cooper Legas and McCae Hillstead. Those losses, combined with the retirement of Levi Williams, meant that 100 percent of the Aggies’ production at the position was lost to offseason attrition.

Legas and Hillstead’s departures were dampened somewhat by the news that incoming Iowa transfer, Spencer Petras, had won the starting job outright in spring ball, but depth is a necessity at QB.

Last year, due to injuries among other factors, USU had to start three different quarterbacks — Legas, Hillstead and Williams. The same happened in 2022 with Legas, Logan Bonner and Bishop Davenport all starting at least once. In 2021 Bonner started every game but Andrew Peasley led the USU rally against Air Force that year and Legas held down the fort in the team’s bowl game against Oregon State after Bonner left with an injury.

History pretty heavily suggests that head coach (and QB coach) Blake Anderson will need to have good depth in his quarterback room to keep the season’s prospects as high as possible.

That’s what ultimately made losing Legas and Hillstead hurt even more. What was once a room of rather incredible depth suddenly got reduced to just Petras, Utah transfer Bryson Barnes, and the relatively unknown reserve Zeke Payne.

Anderson didn’t express much alarm at losing so much talent. He expected Legas to leave when the senior lost the battle for QB1 honors, though Hillstead’s departure was not expected (Legas has since committed to play for Tulsa while Hillstead is going two hours south to play at BYU). He said after the spring showcase there were some options the team had, and those options seem to be pretty solid, if unproven compared to Legas/Hillstead.

In the last couple of weeks, Utah State has added two transfer quarterbacks, players who had solid hype coming out of high school but didn’t pan out at their previous stops. The two additions give back some of what was lost in Utah State’s QB room in both depth and future prospects.

The first of the two additions was CJ Tiller, formerly of Boise State. He spent one season with the Broncos, appearing in only two games and thus preserving his redshirt. Coming out of high school, Tiller was a three-star recruit who showed potential to be a quarterback of the future. But he didn’t see much time and got recruited over this offseason with Boise State adding former five-star recruit Malachi Nelson.

Tiller did see one significant stint last season, starting for Boise State in the LA Bowl against UCLA. That outing accounted for all of Tiller’s stats last season as he completed 12 of 21 passes for 117 yards and one interception to zero touchdowns. His only other appearances was, coincidently enough, against Utah State but he didn’t record any stats.

The second, and more recent addition, is another QB that just so happened to face Utah State at some point in his career: Jacob Conover. Most recently at Arizona State, his career began at BYU where he signed as a four-star recruit prior to the 2020 season. He made occasional appearances over the years, but didn’t complete a pass until going 5 of 9 for 45 yards in a reserve appearance against Utah State in 2021. That amounted to all of his completions and yards in three seasons with the Cougars and so, prior to the 2023 season, Conover transferred to Arizona State, closer to his hometown of Chandler, Arizona. He only appeared in three games last year, completing 11 passes for 130 yards.

These two additions are a far cry from the experience Legas had in his five seasons at Utah State. Even Hillstead had more experience and statistical production than both of these new QBs combined. Whereas either Legas or Hillstead could have stepped in Week 1 should it have become necessary, Tiller and Conover will not provide that kind of depth early on. It’ll all be down to Petras to stay healthy and Barnes if the situation requires. Conover and Tiller’s appearances on the field so far in their careers have been pretty underwhelming, showing they’ll need time to learn and develop more. Should Anderson be forced to turn to either Tiller/Conover in the first few weeks, or at any point this year, it could get ugly. But, at the very least it’s better than emergency QBs or walk-ons with absolutely zero

What makes Tiller and Conover’s additions potentially exciting lies a lot more in the QB battle the two will engage in next spring and fall. With a year in Anderson’s system both still have great potential to be top-end quarterbacks in the Mountain West. They were both highly rated recruits out of high school, after all. That talent will be enough to serve as the third and fourth options at QB this year and plenty to get Aggie fans excited when the 2025 season appears on the horizon.

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