2012 was a banner year for the Aggies, winning 11 games for the first time in school history. Can they repeat 2012? Why, or why not?
Carl: The schedule is too demanding for a repeat of last year. The Aggies begin the season by going on the road to face Utah, Air Force, USC, and San Jose St, while getting BYU and Boise State at home. If they pass through that gauntlet, I’d be surprised. I can see, however, them being competitive in most of those match-ups, given the talent returning. Head Coach Matt Wells won’t have to search too far for talent. 8 wins will be just as good as 11 last year on a softer schedule.
Matt: The schedule is much more difficult. In 2012, USU played the 146th toughest schedule in the country . . . take a minute to soak that in. That includes FCS teams. (By comparison, BYU played the 83rd toughest and we thought it was largely laughable.) In 2013, they are set to take on the 93rd toughest (according to Phil Steele, who also has the Cougars this season at 49th.) Mountain West Conference is tougher than the WAC plus three very tough non-conference games at Utah, at USC, and hosting BYU (plus an early tilt against Air Force) will make it hard for the Aggies to get 8 wins this season, let alone 11.
Mike: Utah State’s 2012 season was remarkable on many fronts. 11 wins is big no matter who you are. In Logan they name barns and create cheese after such events. Away from the 11 wins USU lost 2 games (Wisconsin and BYU) by a collective 5 points. Both on the road. Repeating is going to be very difficult. The problem with being Utah St and most smaller programs is when the big programs steal away your coaching staff it’s extremely difficult to replace them. The Aggs have to find more Gary Anderson-like diamonds in the rough like possibly inexperienced Matt Wells. New OC Kevin McGiven is also low on experience at the D1 level. Experience is important in coaching but as Gary Anderson showed there can be a value for fresh perspective and innovation. Utah St has enough left over pieces from last year coupled with a relatively easy road schedule to win a lot of games. I wouldn’t expect 11 wins but a bowl game and conference title contention should be expected.
Will junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton do enough to remain on the Heisman list all season?
Carl: It’s a tough call. The first 7 games are so demanding that losses or poor stat sheets drop him quickly off the radar. Chuckie is Chuckie however, and he could prove the naysayers wrong like he’s done before. Side-bar: Former USU QB Adam Kennedy will have a better stat sheet in 2013 at Arkansas State than Chuckie Keeton will have at Utah State.
Matt: While getting preseason love on these watch lists is nice, they don’t mean a whole lot. To paraphrase a talk in church on Sunday, “Getting excited about (preseason award watch lists) is like getting excited about schmores.” Yeah, okay, I don’t get it either, but this is how I feel about this list. I don’t get it. They throw out a wide net so they don’t get caught unawares, but most publications, including the conference’s own preseason rankings, has Keeton as the 4th best quarterback in his own league. If he’s not top of his league, he’s certainly not top of the nation and it doesn’t matter what he does this season, it will never be enough.
Mike: I remember when Chuckie signed with the Aggies wondering how many recruiting violations must have occurred to get him to Logan. Chuckie was sought after by Cal, Boise St, TCU and UCLA. I later learned that Chuckie becoming an Agg had more to with his family keeping their word and some passionate, hardworking coaches doing enough right things early in the recruiting process. Few expected Chuckie Keeton to lead the greatest season in Utah St history as a sophomore. As for the Heisman list, the only list I can find Chuckie on is a 30 player list. I do expect him to have another great year and should be one of the top 30 players in college football. In terms of actually winning the Heisman he has zero shot. Vegas doesn’t even have odds on Chuckie to win and they have odds on everyone including Jordan Lynch, the bad Northern Illinois QB. Chuckie has no chance, not because he isn’t one of the most exciting players in college football, but because the Heisman Trophy, more than ever, is college football’s version of the Miss America Pageant. It has less to do with players or player performance and more to do with hype, exposure and nonsense. The voting process alone is a complete failure. Not since our beloved Ty Detmer stole the Heisman in 1990 has a “Non-BCS” player won the beauty pageant. Chuckie could lead USU to another magical run but I predict a Utah State coed to win Miss America before Chuckie does.
Can new head coach Matt Wells keep this team together and provide enough continuity for the team as they face a much tougher schedule than they ever have?
Carl: Wells gets the ‘Rookie coattails’. Gary Crowton got them in 2001 at BYU, Whittingham got them in 2005 and many other coaches have received the benefit of existing talent on campus. Gary Andersen left him in good shape for the first year. So he will keep the team together, but more because the team wants to stay together. I think they want to further build the program out of the perennial bottom and put it on the map. They are on the cusp, almost similarly to Utah in the early 90’s. A few more wins and they’ll solidify that foundation.
Matt: I don’t think that much is going to change with the Aggies in 2013. Both the offense and defense will be much the same though the defense may throw in some wrinkles. Much of the personnel returns from a year ago so I don’t see much slipping in terms of production; they just have a tougher hill to climb this year.
Mike: Matt Wells is an Agg alum and built an offense around Chuckie Keeton that ranked 21st nationally last year. At USU, that is truly amazing. Before 2011, Wells never held a legitimate coordinating coaching position. As I stated, experience is important in coaching but so is innovative, creative thinking. If Wells and OC Kevin McGiven can build on last year’s offensive success it could make Aggie Nation forget about Gary Anderson. As for the schedule, the majority of USU’s tough games are at home. Obviously USC on the road is tough but away from Utah and possibly San Jose St, the Aggs shouldn’t lose many road games.
Can Utah State win the Mountain division in the Mountain West Conference in their first season?
Carl: The odds are fair. At Air Force and Boise State at home are the two biggest games I see from a conference standpoint. San Jose St could be problematic. The biggest problem is the MWC is not going to slouch on Utah State. They’ve seen big strides in the Aggies and are going to prepare for a quality opponent. The rubber meets the road for Utah State this season.
Matt: All signs point to no. The road travels through Boise State (even though these two teams meet in Logan) and while the rest of their conference schedule appears very winnable, BSU will still be tough. Until the Broncos are knocked from atop their lofty perch, all roads will always lead to Boise.
Mike: The Boise St game in Logan will be the most difficult conference game of the year. I expect that game in early October to be for the conference title. Boise will be on another hunt for a BCS birth but with 43 true or redshirt freshmen they will have their hands full going to Logan. If USU can get past Boise St., I don’t see another team in the MWC that should contend.
Will Utah State get another rivalry win in 2013 or will BYU extend its winning streak to three games in Logan?
Carl: No… And I say that with as blue of goggles as possible. This ‘rivalry’ has quickly gotten out of control and now could be entering the actual identity of a true rivalry. Flashbacks to 1993 and 1994 are popping in to my mind. Oh how the mighty have let the minions get out of control! This doesn’t need to be pretty, but show the Aggies who’s still in charge here.
Matt: If this were last year’s game replayed in Logan, I’d give this win to the Aggies 95% of the time. However, this is not last year’s BYU team. The defense will be different but still managed by an excellent defensive mind in (head coach Bronco) Mendenhall, it still has one of the most exciting defensive players ever to play in Provo in Kyle Van Noy, and the guys stepping in to fill the shoes of the seven players who left the program since the SDSU game should be more than ready for the job. The offense should be improved and if Taysom Hill can stay healthy, he’ll spread the ball around and lead BYU to the Conference Weekend win.
Mike: I have this game as a coin flip. A lot of USU’s success depends on their defense. The first month of the season should define who Utah St is defensively. The variable that should scare BYU fans is the success this USU team experienced last year. Success is contagious and even though BYU beat the Aggies last year, rational thinking would suggest USU has more experience winning big games lately. This variable will exist when BYU goes to Logan. The 2013 BYU seniors haven’t won a big game since the Utah game of 2009; Maaco, Poinsettia and New Mexico Bowls included. As important as this game is for BYU Nation it will rival Utah State’s Bowl game. If Matt Wells and his coaching staff can figure out how to keep the Aggies hungry for success this will be another scary Friday night road game. BYU should be more talented but the “hungry variable” can neutralize talent. Just ask any Appalachian State (Michigan ’07), UL Monroe (Arkansas ’12) or Utah fan (Alabama ’09). All of which beat better teams with wildly less talent.