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Logan • Robert Turbin, Bobby Wagner and Michael Smith are gone from Utah State, making their mark in the NFL with their play during the preseason.
Even missing those critical pieces, though, expectations remain high for the Aggies.
Entering their final year in the Western Athletic Conference, the Aggies are seeking to go out as league champions. And following its first bowl appearance in more than a decade, USU is planning to make it to the postseason once again.
Thursday's season opener against Southern Utah at Romney Stadium (6 p.m.) marks the Ags' first stop on their road out of the WAC and into the Mountain West Conference next year.
"For us as a staff and as a group of kids, it's awesome to see how much excitement there is in the community with the start of the season right around the corner," said Utah State coach Gary Andersen. "Everyone is excited about it. I hope that we are able to play that way as we go forward. Hopefully the place is jumping on Thursday night."
The Aggies have certainly made an impression on their opponent. SUU head coach Ed Lamb calls USU the "hottest team in the state," and said that the Aggies are "without a weakness."
With Brad Sorensen leading a high-powered offense, the T-birds are certainly capable of making life difficult for Utah State. Still, the Aggies are sizable favorites heading into the season opener.
Andersen this week has declined to name a starting quarterback. However, all signs point to sophomore Chuckie Keeton being the guy who will take the first snap, barring a last-minute change of heart by the coaching staff. According to USU observers, Keeton has outplayed rival Adam Kennedy during preseason camp.
Both quarterbacks are expected to receive playing time, although how the snaps are divided remains to be determined. USU will also play its first game with a new offense, and two new coordinators in Matt Wells (offense) and Dave Aranda (defense).
"This has been a very successful camp, and we're looking to make this a successful season as well," junior center Tyler Larsen said. "With Southern Utah, we're just ready to get up there and play our first game. We're ready to continue what we started last year."
Southern Utah at Utah State
P At Romney Stadium (Logan)
Kickoff • Thursday, 6 p.m.
TV • KMYU
Radio • 610 AM, 97.5 FM
Series history • Utah State leads 2-0
Last meeting • Utah State 53, Southern Utah 34 (Sept. 26, 2009)
About the T-birds • Southern Utah returns 12 starters. … The T-birds went 6-5 last year, and have 18 redshirts returning from a year ago. … Quarterback Brad Sorensen was named the Most Valuable Player of the Great West Conference. … Head coach Ed Lamb is 21-23 in his four years at SUU.
About the Aggies • Utah State will open a season with consecutive home games for the first time since 1996. … The Aggies lost five players who earned All-WAC honors a year ago. … Head coach Gary Andersen coached SUU for one season in 2003. … The Aggies return 19 starters overall.