"We put it on the players in May, June and July," coach Matt Wells said. "I think we have good leadership; we'll find out if it's great. I think we're going to be a good team, and it's a really small, small difference between being good and being elite and having a really special year."
As Utah State gets closer to its Sunday night opener against Tennessee on Aug. 31, the Aggies are a more defined squad. Saturday's exhibition was as much a report card on the team's progress as it was a chance for fans to glimpse the future.
Utah State already knows it has plenty of returners in the defensive front seven. It has wide receivers who have experience and playmaking potential. Offensive line and the secondary, as their somewhat up-and-down ride in the spring game showed, still have spots to be solidified.
After 15 spring practices, the players have a body of work and notes for what they must improve. And the summer will be their chance to do it, or else face not living up to expectations on Saturdays.
After going to the Mountain West championship last season and winning a bowl game over Northern Illinois, the bar is pretty high for Utah State.
"The defense could have played a little better, but isn't that why we're here? We're here to get better," cornerback Devin Centers said. "We're going to work hard and be competitors, so we can come out here and win the Mountain West and go to a bowl game."
The summer also offers the hope that key contributors will return healthy, most prominently quarterback Chuckie Keeton. The Aggies are a different team with their versatile quarterback at the helm. They'll also look for running back Joe Hill, receiver Shaan Johnson and linebacker Tavaris McMillan to be cleared, among others.
Traditionally, coaches have little summer access to their players, who coordinate their workout regimen and other offseason activities through a strength and conditioning coach. Starting this year, coaches will have more access during an eight-week period to help players prepare for the season.
Wells said he'll value that time to get newcomers more acclimated to the program, but Utah State still wants players to lead voluntary meetings and workouts.
When the real fourth quarters come, the players will determine the team's success. Utah State's coaches want to give them that responsibility now.
"I want player leadership in the summer," Wells said. "What we've done in the past works."