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Utah State football: It’s no mirage — Ags out to prove they’re for real

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State University's new offensive coordinator Matt Wells at football practice in Logan, Utah Wednesday, August 22, 2012.

By Kyle Goon

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Aug 23 2013 07:33AM
Updated Feb 14, 2014 11:33PM

Logan • He doesn’t always acknowledge it, but he is aware of it.

Matt Wells knows the stakes going into his first season as Utah State football coach: the expectations entering the Mountain West Conference and the pressure to duplicate last year’s 11-2 season. He can’t escape it, but that’s OK — he feeds off it.

"We talk about it," he said. "We understand the outside expectations, we understand the outside pressures. We also understand the internal pressures and internal expectations, and those always supersede anything from our fans or media or anybody else outside."

If that’s the case, the Aggies’ own goals are astronomical. Their bar has never been set higher.

Some expect the Aggies to pick up where they left off, to keep rolling from the success they had with Chuckie Keeton at quarterback and with one of the nation’s best defenses. Some expect them to charge into the Mountain West with full force and challenge for the conference title.

Still others are waiting for Utah State to fall back into place as the "little brother" of in-state rivals Utah and BYU. It wasn’t long ago when the Aggies were in the basement of FBS football, when the program didn’t have a winning season for 15 years. The team is determined to keep the program pointed in the right direction. Really determined.

"It’s nice to say, ‘We’re not little brother anymore,’" Zach Vigil said. "We want to keep it that way."

Even returning 15 starters on offense and defense, it’s on the Aggies to prove they can sustain their success.

There aren’t a lot of new faces at the key positions, but there are a lot of new faces in new roles. Wells quickly seized the top job after Gary Andersen’s departure in December and hired five new position coaches, including offensive coordinator Kevin McGiven and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.

Since spring, the team has worked hard to blend in the new staff to work fluidly with an experienced group of players. The most notable returner is Keeton, who racked up nearly 4,000 yards of offense as a sophomore. But five starting offensive linemen return, as well as eight of 11 starters on defense.

Utah State is used to success at this point, going to back-to-back bowl games while recording an 18-8 record in the last two seasons. The team has not lost a conference game since October 2011.

A tough schedule will test that record — and the team’s resolve.

"I get kind of mad because sometimes I think we don’t get the respect we deserve," tight end D.J. Tialavea said. "We know who we are. We know how great we can be up here. We’re trying to show people Utah State is a legit program. It’s for real."

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