Note: This is the final installment in our series of brief previews of Mountain West football teams. I’ll post all of them in one file later this week.
UTAH STATE AGGIES
Coach: Matt Wells
Record: 9-5 (one season)
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Last year: 9-5 overall, 7-1 MW
Last bowl: 2013 Poinsettia (W, 21-14 over Northern Illinois)
Returning starters: 6/5/2 (offense/defense/specialists)
Story line: The Aggies, the defending Mountain Division champs, lost half of their offensive and defensive starters from last year. But Wells compared this squad to the 2012 group that lost some stars from the previous year and finished in the Top 20. Quarterback Chuckie Keeton, healthy and a senior, provides much of the reason for that confidence. Attrition in the offensive line and defensive backfield create concern. “We have youthful, talented, skillful kids in those positions, but they haven’t done it yet,” Wells said.
Star player: Keeton completed 69.4 percent of his passes, averaged 271.5 yards of total offense per game and produced 20 touchdowns in less than six full games last season before a torn anterior cruciate ligament sent him to the sideline. He has 56 touchdown passes and 14 rushing touchdowns in 28 career games and was named the preseason MW Offensive Player of the Year. “I’ve been impressed with Chuckie Keeton from my second day on the job when Gary Andersen sent me to Houston (to recruit him),” Wells said. The Aggies also return Kyler Fackrell, who is the No. 1 underclassman at outside linebacker and the No. 18 overall draft-eligible prospect in the country, according to ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. Fackrell made 13 tackles for loss and five sacks last season.
Quotable: “We’ve created a culture of ‘expect to win’ — not ‘hope to win’ or ‘think you can.’ That’s what impresses me. That’s what’s hard to coach. That takes time. It takes success.” — Wells
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