Utah State football: Chuckie Keeton faces long odds in Heisman chase
Logan •Â Even strolling through Utah State's campus, Chuckie Keeton stays alert for the rush.
He likens it to being in "quarterback mode," as he scans his surroundings. But he's not looking for tacklers he's seeing how many of his fellow students want to come up to take a picture with him.
"A lot more than you would think," he said. "People have two ways of going about it: They stare really hard, or they come up and socialize with me. I'm fine with either one, really, but it can be a little crazy."
There's no doubt: Everybody in Logan wants a piece of Chuckie Keeton. With 836 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns in two games, the junior quarterback's celebrity status in his college town has shot up.
Some of the last people to see his performances are the offensive linemen who block for him. Senior guard Kyle Whimpey said watching Keeton's game footage every weekend has become an anticipated event.
"We're usually mouth wide open," he said. "We're excited about Chuckie, and there's no one we'd rather block for. He's crafty, he's creative. He comes to work and does a good job back there."
The early momentum has rolled into a school-sponsored Heisman campaign for its star. Utah State has put up a website and a Twitter campaign dedicated to increase his profile, and mailed trading cards of Keeton to more than 600 media members and Heisman voters.
Could Keeton be recognized as the best college football player in the land? Could he at least get a plane ticket to the ceremony as a finalist?
Both possibilities, several national experts said, are quite slim.
"He's a really exciting player, but his odds are probably somewhere around 1,000 to 1," Sports Illustrated writer Stewart Mandel said. "It's a lofty goal, even an admirable goal. But it's harder than ever for small school guys to win these things."
Heismans tend to go hand-in-hand with unblemished records. In the BCS era, only five non-BCS conference players have ever finished in the top five in Heisman voting. Notably, Utah's Alex Smith and Hawaii's Colt Brennan were presiding over undefeated teams during the Heisman presentation, and Kellen Moore had led Boise State on a 24-game win streak before falling to Nevada late in 2010.
Even though recent winners such as Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel weren't on national title-winning teams, their visibility in big conferences and their chances to have marquee wins Â gave them an edge over candidates from smaller schools.
In that sense, losing to Utah has already given Keeton a tough start on that climb. Particularly against USC and Boise State, Keeton will have to be sensational with little to no margin for a poor performance. And Utah State will likely have to go unbeaten the rest of the way.
While Johnny Manziel and Tajh Boyd might lead off SportsCenter every night, Keeton is still working his way into the national picture. While he has a following among close observers, Mandel says he isn't yet "a household name." And with the proliferation of high-scoring, spread offenses, it's harder for a player like Keeton to shine on the stat sheet.
The more exposure, the better chance a player has.
"It's kind of a shame when you step back and think about it because the Heisman has become an award for the best player," ESPN analyst and Heisman voter Rod Gilmore said. "It's the best running back or quarterback at the biggest program that is winning. The non-BCS schools don't really have their players considered as much."
But that may make Utah State's promotion more important for Keeton, who still has another year left to make a run at football's biggest individual honor. It also will do a lot for the program itself, increasing its exposure and showing recruits how the school backs its players.
"I have never seen any harm in putting in that material out there," said Kevin McGuire, a writer for College Football Talk. "It offers more ways for people to connect and attracts at least a couple more eyes. It might not win him the Heisman, but it has a benefit for the program."
Mandel added that it's been established the best player in college football can come from anywhere, pointing to No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher as an example.
Utah State, whether its quarterback wins any awards or not, will stand behind him. As far as the Aggies are concerned, they wouldn't trade him for anyone.
"I know for us he's been very, very productive and very, very consistent and I'm sure that as he strings a lot of those performances there'll be a lot of other people telling me how it is on a national scene," coach Matt Wells said. "He's not worried about that and I'm definitely not worried about that."
Non-BCS Heisman finalists
A list of players from non-BCS leagues who made the top five in Heisman voting:
QB Chad Pennington, Marshall • 5th place, 1999
QB David Carr, Fresno State • 5th place, 2001
QB Alex Smith, Utah • 4th place, 2004
QB Colt Brennan, Hawaii • 3rd place, 2007
QB Kellen Moore, Boise State • 4th place, 2010
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