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USU football: Aggies picked second in division, behind Boise State

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(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Idaho Vandals quarterback Taylor Davis (12) fumbles as he is sacked by Utah State Aggies linebacker Kyler Fackrell (52). Davis recovered. Utah State led the Idaho Vandals 21-6 at the half in Logan, Saturday, November 24, 2012.

By Kyle Goon

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Jul 22 2013 10:07AM
Updated Dec 7, 2013 11:35PM

Las Vegas • With dangerous pass rushers only feet away, Chuckie Keeton felt no pressure.

At Mountain West media day, after all, there are no pads, no helmets and no tackling.

In a few months, other attendees will be scrambling to pound the Utah State quarterback into the turf. On Monday, they wore polo shirts and khakis and made idle conversation over pizza and caesar salad.

"Now I know that they are human," Keeton said, "and not trying to hit me at all times."

The Utah State football team is wading into deeper, more dangerous waters this fall against the Mountain West. But even in July, with games more than a month out, the Aggies are already seen as one of the sharks.

A preseason media poll judged Utah State the second-best team in the conference’s Mountain Division, just behind Boise State. And even the Broncos are looking at the Aggies as a potential threat.

Offensive lineman Charles Leno watched the Aggies topple Toledo on Boise State’s home field in the Idaho Potato Bowl last year. Utah State left an impression.

"We know they’re a quality program," Leno said. "I know they’ve still got a lot of players back, and I got to meet some of them. Those guys are top-of-the-line quality guys."

The Aggies’ excitement as a conference newcomer was met with the same sentiment from other Mountain West programs. The conference’s media day offered players and coaches a chance to fist pump an eventful and fruitful offseason: adding Utah State and San Jose State; retaining San Diego State and Boise State; securing games on ESPN and adding a conference championship.

Entering his first year at San Jose State, coach Rod Caragher said even since he was hired months ago, the Mountain West improved his job.

"It’s all kind of fitting together nice," he said. "I know the landscape of college athletics is always changing, but I hope the stability and consistency is here for a long time."

In a conference of dangerous quarterbacks, Utah State has one in Keeton. He’ll remain the Aggies’ most versatile offensive weapon, but he’s also a valuable practice partner when the team will face such potent passers as San Jose State’s David Fales, Boise State’s Joe Southwick, and Wyoming’s Brett Smith in conference play.

"We have six quarterbacks in this league, and each one of them has potential to go to the next level," linebacker Nick Vigil said. "It’s really going to be a benefit to us."

But Utah State’s other returners also make the Aggies a threat.

Offensive lineman Tyler Larsen landed on the preseason all-Mountain West team, one of five returning starters. And linebacker Kyler Fackrell was one of three returning starting linebackers, part of the Aggies stout front.

They’ll be a target to some as well: Utah State has beaten Colorado State, Wyoming, San Jose State, Hawaii and UNLV at least once in the last two seasons. All are on the schedule this year.

"Honestly, it was such a blur with them running us around, so I can’t remember who was their best guy or anything," Fales said of the looming ESPN-televised rematch. "But I’m definitely looking forward to seeing them again."

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