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You can read the entire Utah State preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 National College Football magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
#60 Utah State
MWC Mountain PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Matt Wells, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Kevin McGiven, Luke Wells | DEF. COORDINATOR: Todd Orlando
For the third straight year, the Aggies will be looking to replace an NFL-bound running back, but as in the past there is a worthy player ready to take over the spotlight. Still, first-year head coach Matt Wells is concerned about depth behind junior Joe Hill, who rushed for 269 yards and seven touchdowns while backing up Kerwynn Williams.
“There are some roles that still need to be defined,” says Wells, who was promoted from offensive coordinator when Gary Andersen left to take over at Wisconsin. “Realistically, I’m going to need three back there.”
Quarterback Chuckie Keeton, now in his third season as the Aggies’ starter, is back and will push for national accolades. In fact, there is already a social media campaign for the junior as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Keeton is a dual-threat who passed for 3,373 yards and rushed for 619 last season, accounting for 35 total touchdowns.
All five starting offensive linemen return, including center Tyler Larsen, who has started 38 straight games.
The biggest concern is who will be catching passes from Keeton. Senior Travis Reynolds, who caught 25 passes for 244 yards, is the top returning wideout. Wells is counting on junior college transfers and incoming freshmen to join the mix of returning players, which include Reynolds, Travis Van Leeuwen and tight end D.J. Tialavea.
Along with losing their head coach, the Aggies also lost their defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda, who followed Andersen to Wisconsin. Todd Orlando, most recently at FIU, is the new defensive boss, and he has breathed new excitement into a good returning group.
“Todd has come in and done a great job of learning our stuff and adding his flavor to it,” Wells says. “The kids have responded tremendously to Todd and his energy.”
The front seven will be counted on to set the tone. The Aggies allowed just 15.4 points per game and led the nation in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score a touchdown on only 29.6 percent of their trips inside the 20.
Linebackers Kyler Fackrell, Jake Doughty and Zach Vigil will lead the way after all three earned all-league honors in 2012. The defensive line rotation will feature seven players who saw significant action last season.
Perhaps the biggest addition to the defense is safety Maurice Alexander, who missed last season due to a suspension. He impressed the coaches during the spring and could have a future in the NFL. Cornerback Nevin Lawson has started 28 games.
In its only two losses last season, both by three points or less, Utah State went a combined 1-of-3 on field goals, with both misses coming from inside 40 yards. Identifying a consistent placekicker will top the agenda in preseason camp. Jaron Bentrude is in line to replace Tyler Bennett as the punter.
The Aggies return plenty of experience from a team that won 11 games and was ranked No. 16 in the final AP poll. However, the move to the stronger Mountain West will pose plenty of challenges. The non-conference schedule is difficult as well, with trips to Utah and USC and a home date with BYU.
There could be a few hiccups with the transition from Andersen to Wells, but there have been no significant changes in philosophy, which should help this veteran team pick up where it left off. USU has won 16 of its last 19 games, and the three losses were by a combined six points. Another bowl game should be in the Aggies’ sights.
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