<strong>LOGAN—</strong>Despite the NBA season just ending, it is never too early to talk college football.
Recently, Yahoo.com has been releasing its ranking of every FBS football team in the nation. Though the USU football team finally broke the triple digits barrier in its ranking, the Aggies still have a ways to go, rolling in at No. 87 in the <a href=”http://sports.yahoo.com/news/ncaaf–preseason-1-124-countdown–nos–86-90.html” target=”_blank”>most recent Yahoo rankings</a>.
The Aggies are coming off their first winning season and bowl appearance since 1997. However, USU also lost its two best players on both sides of the ball to the NFL draft. Senior linebacker Bobby Wagner, who led the Aggies in tackles for the past three seasons, was selected in the second round by the Seattle Seahawks.
On the offensive side of the ball, Western Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Robert Turbin, gave up his senior season and followed Wagner to the Seahawks as he was selected in the fourth round of the NFL Draft.
Despite the loss of some key and highly talented cogs, USU does have a lot going for it as it tries for back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1979-80.
The Yahoo article highlights the USU QB’s as a bright spot, and for good reason. Despite struggling to a 2-5 record, <a href=”http://www.utahstateaggies.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/keeton_chuckie00.html” target=”_blank”>Chuckie Keeton</a> showed poise and ability well beyond his years as he started under center for the Aggies as a true freshman. Were it not for a crazy series of events and some defensive lapses, Keeton could easily have been 6-1 as a starter before he went down with an injury midway through the season. Now fully healthy, he figures to be a big part of USU’s success in 2012.
Senior-to-be <a href=”http://www.utahstateaggies.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/kennedy_adam00.html” target=”_blank”>Adam Kennedy</a> was certainly no slouch in replacing Keeton as he led a massive comeback against Hawaii after taking over for Keeton, and reeled off five straight wins to finish the regular season. Kennedy also started and played most of the Aggies’ bowl game against Ohio, which USU lost, 24-23, in the final seconds.
Whoever starts the season under center for USU has certainly shown they are a capable leader, and the quarterback position is one of strength for the Aggies in 2012.
The Yahoo article also listed starting center <a href=”http://www.utahstateaggies.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/larsen_tyler00.html” target=”_blank”>Tyler Larsen</a> as one of the top lineman in the WAC (he is on the Rimington watch list), and <a href=”http://www.utahstateaggies.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/filimoeatu_bojay00.html” target=”_blank”>Bojay Filimoeatu</a> as a defensive stud who should help make up for the loss of starting linebackers Kyle Gallagher and Wagner.
One of the negatives brought up by the Yahoo article is the lack of go-to receiver for the Aggies.
Despite the Aggies relatively meager passing game in 2011 – they ranked No. 97 nationally in passing offense – USU figures to have a more potent attack in 2012. First, No. 1 wideout <a href=”http://www.utahstateaggies.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/austin_matt00.html” target=”_blank”>Matt Austin</a> was granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA and will return as a senior in 2012.
Austin was a favorite of both Keeton and Kennedy, and finished with a team-best 34 catches for 465 yards and six TDs. He is poised for a stellar season with his 6-foot, 2-inch 200 pound frame and big catch ability. Senior speedster <a href=”http://www.utahstateaggies.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/jacobs_chuck00.html” target=”_blank”>Chuck Jacobs</a> and junior <a href=”http://www.utahstateaggies.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/reynolds_travis01.html” target=”_blank”>Travis Reynolds</a>, among others, figure to play a major factor in a passing game that should increase in production as the Aggies transition to a more spread offense.
Though it will be impossible to replace the production of Turbin and Michael Smith (who was also drafted), senior <a href=”http://www.utahstateaggies.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/williams_kerwynn00.html” target=”_blank”>Kerwynn Williams</a> returns with a lot of experience and showed the ability in the one spring scrimmage that he played in to run between the tackles. Junior <a href=”http://www.utahstateaggies.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/marshall_robert00.html” target=”_blank”>Robert Marshall</a> (power) and sophomore <a href=”http://www.utahstateaggies.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/hill_joe00.html” target=”_blank”>Joe Hill</a> (speed) will also add to the Aggies’ rushing attack.
On the defensive side of the ball, USU does have question marks on the defensive line. The Yahoo article also questions the Aggies linebacking corps with the loss of Gallagher and Wagner. However, Filimoeatu and sophomore <a href=”http://www.utahstateaggies.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/mcmillian_tavaris00.html” target=”_blank”>Tavaris McMillian</a> lead a young talented group that will make plays for USU.
Last season, the Aggies fielded one of the most inexperienced secondary units in the WAC. Nearly that entire group returns in 2012, and should be much more experienced this time around. In fact, the Yahoo article says the Aggies’ secondary “might be the best in the league.”
Below is the Yahoo articles final thought on USU:
<em>“Five of Utah State’s victories last season came by seven or fewer points, including four by four or fewer. Was that luck or a sign the Aggies have learned how to win? September has games with Utah and Wisconsin and there’s a trip to BYU in early October, but the rest of the schedule is manageable, assuming Williams (or someone) can be a productive tailback. Utah State hasn’t had back-to-back winning seasons since 1979-80, but the Aggies should reach that goal this season.”</em>