2014 CFN Preview - Utah State Aggies
Utah State QB Chuckie Keeton
Utah State QB Chuckie Keeton
Posted Jun 21, 2014

CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2014 - Utah State has its superstar QB back, and could it mean a MW title? (Getty Images)

Utah State Aggies

Preview 2014

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By Pete Fiutak
- 2014 Utah State Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players

- VOD: College football breakdowns on Campus Insiders

Head coach: Matt Wells
2nd year: 9-5
Returning Lettermen
Off: 20, Def. 18, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 24
Ten Best USU Players
1. QB Chuckie Keeton, Sr.
2. LB Zach Vigil, Sr.
3. LB Kyler Fackrell, Jr.
4. OT Kevin Whimpey, Sr.
5. WR Bruce Natson, Jr.
6. DE B.J. Larsen, Sr.
7. RB Joe Hill, Sr.
8. LB Nick Vigil, Soph.
9. FS Brian Suite, Sr.
10. QB Darell Garretson, Soph.
2014 Schedule

Aug. 30 at Tennessee
Sep. 6 Idaho State
Sep. 13 Wake Forest
Sep. 27 at Arkansas State
Oct. 3 at BYU
Oct. 11 Air Force
Oct. 18 at Colorado State
Oct. 25 UNLV
Nov. 1 at Hawaii
Nov. 8 at Wyoming
Nov. 15 New Mexico
Nov. 22 San Jose State
Nov. 29 at Boise State

How far has Utah State come? A 9-5 season is a bit of a disappointment.

The Aggies got past a 3-4 start and a tough loss to Boise State to rip off five straight wins – granted, the schedule wasn't that bad – to slip into the inaugural Mountain West championship, losing a tough battle with Fresno State before going off and beating Northern Illinois in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

Remember, though, that before 2012, the last time Utah State won nine games in a season was 1961, and last year marked the first time in school history that the team went to three straight bowl games.

Winning seasons are new to a program that went from 1996 to 2011 without one, and just as Gary Andersen was getting things rocking and rolling, he took off to Wisconsin.

Matt Wells stepped in and did a great job of bringing the program into the bigger, better Mountain West after spending years in the WAC, Sun Belt and Big West, but now the program has tasted success and the expectations are there to do more.

But to get so good took the program building on a great base of players, and it took working with several good veterans and relying on them when star quarterback Chuckie Keeton went down. It's going to take a massive and fast rebuilding effort to get back in the mix for the Mountain West title after succeeding with a senior-laden team.

Is Utah State really so good that it can just fill in the gaps? Can it replace four starters off a fantastic offensive line, three starters in a secondary that finished 15th in the nation in pass efficiency defense, and a 1,221-yard, 13-touchdown running back in Joey DeMartino?

In a division with Boise State and a rising Colorado State program, it had better.

The key is getting back Keeton, who's expected to be all back full after suffering a knee injury in the sixth game of the year. He'll have weapons to work with, but the offense won't go anywhere unless the line can be a force despite the relative inexperience.

Keeton and the USU offense might get all the attention, but the program's rise came on defense, especially against the run allowing just 107 yards per game and nine touchdowns last season. The 3-4 is a brick wall, and fortunately for the Aggies, it should be the team's strength with four starters returning including the Vigil brothers at linebacker, Zach and Nick.

2014 could be a rebuilding year to point to a potentially outstanding 2015, but the system is in place and there might be just enough talent to be just that good again – as long as Chuckie stays healthy.

What to watch for on offense: How fast can the line come together? Tyler Larsen was a special, program-changing center and leader for the attack. He was one of four excellent starters for a line that had a little trouble in pass protection but was great for the ground game, pounding away for almost 2,500 yards. Can the Aggies crank up the 3,675 yards and 37 touchdowns they did in 2011? Not even close with Kevin Whimpey back starting at left tackle and the other four spots needing to be filled. There's a little bit of experience among the former backups ready to step in, and there's good size and decent quickness. It's going to take a while to find the right rotation, but as long as the front five can keep Chuckie Keeton upright, everything should work out fine – after an adjustment period.

What to watch for on defense: The secondary has to hold its own. Safety Brian Suite is the only returning starter. It's by far the team's biggest issue – even over the offensive line that needs some retooling – and it has to hold up as the season goes on. Last season, the Aggies gave up 336 yards in the blowout win over San Jose State, but they came up with three picks. In the other four losses, the secondary allowed 302 yards to Utah, 335 against Boise State, 278 against BYU and 404 against Fresno State – four of the five biggest passing games allowed. They allowed 11 touchdown passes in the five losses and six in the nine wins.

The team will be far better if… Chuckie Keeton can remain in one piece. He's not going to come within 50 miles of the Heisman, but he's being put on a few preseason watch lists. He's the program's star with the ability to carry the team all by himself with a strong, accurate arm and the smarts to keep the offense moving. However, the team went on a nice run when he went down, winning six of its last eight games and losing the BYU battle when he got hurt. Even with their good line, the Aggies allowed 33 sacks last season and got backup quarterback Darrell Garretson rocked in the Mountain West title game. Keeton isn't huge and isn't built to take lots of huge shots. That could be a problem behind the revamped line.

The Schedule: Can the Aggies come out of Tennessee with a big win that can put them on the map? That might be asking a bit too much to kick off the season, but they can certainly handle Idaho State at home before hosting Wake Forest. Going to Arkansas State is a quirky-tough non-conference game, but they get a week off to prepare, and they're going to need it with BYU to follow. The Mountain West slate is as easy as could possibly be asked for with no Nevada, San Diego State or Fresno State from the West. However, the Boise State showdown closes out the regular season on the blue turf – that could and should decide the Mountain – and there's a run of three road games in four weeks going to Colorado State, Hawaii and Wyoming in the middle of the season.

Best offensive player: Senior QB Chuckie Keeton. A passing efficiency machine, he's terrific on the move, cool under pressure, and dangerous when he gets a chance to take off in the open field. He needs help around him, and he needs time from the line, but if he gets time and the rest of the skill players can take advantage of the opportunities, the offense should be in for a huge season. Keeton is that good.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Zach Vigil. The front seven should be excellent, especially against the run with Kyler Fackrell and Nick Vigil two excellent linebackers on the outside, and B.J. Larsen is a strong end for the line. It's Zach Vigil, though, who's the key inside coming off an all-star, 124-tackle season. He's tough, experienced and rock-solid when things are funneled his way. He'll be the one everything works around, and he'll come through with another huge season.

Key player to a successful season: Senior C Joe Summers and/or sophomore C Austin Stephens. The Aggies could move around one or both of the two to find the right fit and get the best five players up front, but whomever is at center has some massive shoes to fill. Tyler Larsen was a technician who grew into a star who made the line go. Coming up with a good nose tackle to anchor the defensive front three is vital, and hoping for a corner to rise up and rock in place of Nevin Lawson, but if Summers or Stephens can handle being close to Larsen's level, everything else up front should click.

The season will be a success if ... the Aggies win ten games. They might not be quite good enough to beat Boise State, especially on the road, and there's way too much turnover to expect a smooth run through teams like BYU and Colorado State. Even so, by the end of the season, they need to be jelled and good enough to win a third straight bowl game and come up with nine regular season wins along the way. They'll probably lose at Tennessee to start things off, and at Boise State, so if there's a split between road games at BYU and Colorado State, and no hiccups anywhere else, it'll be a fantastic year.

Key game: Nov. 29 at Boise State. Without having to play the stars of the West, the schedule works out well. If Utah State is even close to thinking about winning a Mountain West title, they have be good enough to beat Hawaii and Wyoming on the road and have no problems with the league home games. Going to Colorado State will be tough, but there's almost no way the Aggies will have an honest shot of taking the division title without a victory at Boise State. The last win over the Broncos? 1997.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Third Quarter Scoring: Utah State 128 – Opponents 54
- Rushing Yards: Utah State 2,493 – Opponents 1,494
- Fourth Down Conversions: Opponents 19-of-33 (58%) – Utah State 8-of-19 (42%)

- 2014 Utah State Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players