"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 on 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 Chuckie 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, Hawai'i 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."
MWC MEDIA POLL
1st • Boise State 245 (40)
2nd • Utah State 204 (1)
3rd • Air Force 143
4th • Wyoming 116
5th • Colorado State 90
6th • New Mexico 63
1st • Fresno State 243 (39)
2nd • San Diego State 181 (1)
3rd • San Jose State 172 (1)
4th • Nevada 135
5th • UNLV 71
6th • Hawai'i 59 MWC PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE
QB Derek Carr * Sr. Fresno State
WR Davante Adams * So. Fresno State
WR Noel Grigsby Sr. San Jose State
RB Kasey Carrier ** Sr. New Mexico
RB Adam Muema ** Jr. San Diego State
OL Charles Leno ** Sr. Boise State
OL Matt Paradis * Sr. Boise State
OL Weston Richburg Sr. Colorado State
OL Austin Wentworth * Sr. Fresno State
OL Tyler Larsen Sr. Utah State
TE Marcel Jensen Sr. Fresno State
DL Demarcus Lawrence * Jr. Boise State
DL Tyeler Davison * Jr. Fresno State
DL Brock Hekking ** Jr. Nevada
DL Travis Raciti Jr. San Jose State
LB Jake Fely ** Jr. San Diego State
LB Keith Smith Sr. San Jose State
LB Kyler Fackrell So. Utah State
DB L.J. Jones Sr. Fresno State
DB Derron Smith * Jr. Fresno State
DB Nat Berhe ** Sr. San Diego State
DB Bené Benwikere Sr. San Jose State
P Ben Skaer Sr. New Mexico
PK Austin Lopez So. San Jose State
Ret. Chase Clayton Jr. New Mexico
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Derek Carr, Sr., QB, Fresno State
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: Derron Smith, Jr., DB, Fresno State
Preseason Special Teams Player of the Year: Chase Clayton, Jr., KR, New Mexico