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Logan • The Utah State Aggies are carrying a lot of emotions into their fall football camp eagerness, optimism, determination and yes, even a bit of a chip on their shoulder.
The Aggies, who were picked to finish second in the Mountain division behind Boise State, believe they can do even better. They view their opener at Tennessee on Aug. 31 as the perfect platform to show the college football world just how good they can be.
"We think we can surprise some people," said quarterback Chuckie Keeton, whose Heisman campaign will skyrocket or plummet depending on the outcome of that opener.
Much of the Aggies' high hopes are boosted by Keeton's return and he'll undoubtedly be the focus of much of the attention as Utah State's camp begins Tuesday.
Both Keeton and coach Matt Wells said the senior quarterback has fully recovered from the knee injury that cut short his 2013 season. However, Keeton admits that even he doesn't know how he will physically or mentally react to live action.
"I'm definitely excited to get back out there," he said. "But it will take that first hit, then I'll be fine. I feel like I am 100 percent, but it's getting that speed in every single movement from left to right that I am still working on. But my knee is strong."
Wells said there are no plans to coddle Keeton. Instead, the Aggies will proceed with business as usual, which means getting ready for a rigorous schedule highlighted by the trip to SEC country and games against Wake Forest and BYU in the first half of the schedule before conference play begins Oct. 11 against Air Force.
"Our goal and mission statement every year is to compete for the Mountain West title," Wells said. "This team understands the process it takes to get that goal accomplished."
Running back Joe Hill, who like Keeton is returning from a season-ending injury, echoed his coach's thoughts.
"The most important thing as a team is to win the Mountain West and get to a good bowl game," he said. "If we work hard enough, maybe it could be the BCS. We do believe we can do it, we just have to get the young guys to come together in the next three weeks."
The top concerns for the Aggies are solidifying their offensive lines and defensive backs, where the Aggies were hit the hardest by graduation. Left tackle Kevin Whimpey is the only returning starter along the offensive line, and free safety Brian Suite is the only returning defensive back who started in 2013.
The lack of experience doesn't have Keeton too concerned. From what he saw on the sidelines last year, this is a team much deeper than people realize.
"Guys were coming out of their redshirts when others would go down and the second and third string would come in and do a great job," he said. "We showed we weren't just a starting 11."
Teammate Zach Vigil, one of the defensive leaders, agreed with his teammate's assessment.
"We have a lot of weapons," he said. "We just need to develop them and that is what we are going to do in camp."
(All times MT)
Aug. 31 • at Tennessee SEC Network, 5 p.m.
Sept. 6 • vs. Idaho St. MWN, 6 p.m.
Sept. 13 • vs. Wake Forest CBS Sports Network, 5 p.m.
Sept. 20 • at Arkansas St., 5 p.m.
Sept. 27 • Bye
Oct. 3 • at BYU ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Oct. 11 • vs. Air Force TBA, ESPN Networks
Oct. 18 • at Colorado St. CBS Sports Network, 5 p.m.
Oct. 25 • vs. UNLV ESPN Networks, TBA
Nov. 1 • at Hawaii 9 p.m., MWN
Nov. 7 • at Wyoming, ESPN2, 6 p.m.
Nov. 15 • vs. New Mexico ESPN Networks, TBA
Nov. 21 • vs. San Jose St., ESPN2, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 29 • at Boise St. ESPN Networks, TBA
Dec. 6 • MWC Championship TBA
Camp opens Tuesday from 2:15-4:15 p.m. at the practice fields. The Aggies will practice at the same time Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with all practices open to the public. Saturday's practice is from 9:15 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. at Romney Stadium.
Tuesday • 2:15-4:15 p.m.
Wednesday • 2:15-4:15 p.m.
Who is ready • Quarterback Chuckie Keeton and running back Joe Hill are expected to be at full strength as camp begins.
Who is missing • Tight end Landon Horne won't be ready until late in the season due to a lower leg injury he sustained in summer workouts.
Who is being disciplined • Coach Matt Wells said some "internal" disciplinary actions are underway. He didn't name players, but receivers JoJo Natson and Ronald Butler faced charges in the offseason. When asked about the two and if they were available to play, Wells said, "Yes, absolutely."