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Logan • Utah State coach Matt Wells is new enough in his head coaching role that he doesn't have many grey hairs on his head or worry lines on his face. Yet, the Aggies' second-year coach has been around long enough to have a bit of historical perspective about the USU program.
He likes what he sees, too.
Wells said the circumstances surrounding the current Aggies are similar to the period between 2011 and 2012.
The Aggies went 7-6 in 2011 then had their most successful season to date, going 11-2 in 2012, including a 6-0 conference record and a win over Tulsa in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
The 2012 squad was successful despite having a young Chuckie Keeton at quarterback and the task of replacing 27 lettermen from 2011.
This year, the Aggies are led by a seasoned and motivated Keeton, but must replace 28 lettermen from the 2013 team that went 9-5 in its first year of MWC play.
"In 2012, I thought we were going to be good, but we were very youthful," Wells said. "This team, we are very youthful along the offensive line and secondary and we have some youth at the skill positions. But we have talent; the kids just haven't done it yet."
Having a youthful offensive line could spell disaster if the Aggies don't hone their communication skills by the time they open the season in Tennessee's Neyland Stadium. However, just like the Aggies' attitude between 2011 and 2012, Wells likes the current team's vibe.
"We have a good amount of junior college kids coming in but academically they are doing well and the team has worked hard like they did in 2012," he said. "I'm excited about the talent we have. It reminds me so much of 2012, hopefully we can replicate that success."
The schedule is set up similarly. Utah State played Utah, Southern Utah and Wisconsin early in that 2012 season. This time USU travels to Tennessee, then hosts Idaho State and Wake Forest before diving into league play. The Aggies believe they can contend for the league title, even with their key league games against CSU and Boise State on the road.
Having been around the Mountain West for the first time last year leads Wells to draw another 2012 analogy.
"It's the same situation," he said. "In 2011 we were never afraid of the big moment, but we hadn't been in enough big moments to understand it really until the second time around. We got close last year and this year we have the experience and leadership to come back around and make a splash. The biggest thing I noticed we didn't win a bowl game in 2011, but we came back around in 2012 and finished it up and won one."
This season the Aggies say they want a shot at the MWC title they still feel the sting of coming up just short at Fresno State in last year's championship game. Trailing 24-17, the Aggies drove deep into the Bulldogs' territory in the final minute, but an interception thrown by backup quarterback Craig Harrison ended hopes of a USU comeback.
This time, the Aggies are hoping things play out more like 2012 when they won the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl over Toledo after going undefeated in league play.
"I'm not trying to jinx anything, but I think we can have a great season this year and win a championship," Keeton said.
All times Mountain
Aug. 31 at Tennessee, 5 p.m.
Becoming tradition for Aggies to open season on road in a big game
Sept. 6 Idaho St., 6 p.m.
Aggies have won last 3 meetings
Sept. 13 Wake Forest, 5 p.m.
Deacons hope offense is better this year after averaging just 18.3 points in 2013
Sept. 20 at Arkansas St., 5 p.m.
Plays the Vols in its second game of the season
Oct. 3 at BYU, 8:30 p.m.
Keeton suffered his season-ending injury against Cougars last year
Oct. 11 Air Force, TBD
Keeton set career record 5 TD passes in USU 52-20 win
Oct. 18 at Colorado St., 5 p.m.
DeMartino had a career high 35 carries for 127 yards in 13-0 shutout last season
Oct. 25 UNLV, TBA
Rebels would love to avenge 28-24 comeback Aggies had last season
Nov. 1 at Hawaii, 9 p.m.
Trip to Hawaii allows the Aggies to play an extra game
Nov. 7 at Wyoming, 6 p.m.
Garretson threw three TDs in 35-7 win last year
Nov. 15 New Mexico, TBA
Lobos' offense was dominated by Aggies in 2013 45-10 loss
Nov. 21 San Jose St., 7:30 p.m.
Kicker Nick Diaz had a career high 4 FGs in last year's 40-12 win
Nov. 29 at Boise St., TBA
Have lost last 11 to the Broncos
x-WR • Brandon Swindall, Jr., 6-4, 198; Braelon Roberts, Fr., 6-3, 173
T-WR • JoJo Natson, Jr., 5-7, 151; Shaan Johnson, Sr., 6-1, 190
LT • Kevin Whimpey, Sr., 6-5, 295; Austin Albrecht, So., 6-5, 287
LG • Bill Vavau, Sr., 6-4, 314; Tyshon Mosley, Fr., 6-5, 305
C • Austin Stephens, So., 6-3, 290; Joe Summers, Sr., 6-2, 294
RG • Taani Fisilau, Jr., 6-2, 293; Brandon Taukelaho, Fr., 6-4, 321
RT • Jake Simonich, So., 6-5, 286; Bryce Walker, Sr., 6-8, 303
Y-TE • Wyatt Houston, So., 6-5, 245; Jefferson Court, Sr., 6-3, 238
Z-WR • Ronald Butler, Sr., 6-0, 185; Damoun Patterson, Fr., 6-1, 180
RB • Joe Hill, Sr., 5-11, 190; Rashad Hall, Jr., 6-1, 200
QB • Chuckie Keeton, Sr., 6-2, • 200; Darell Garretson, So., 6-0, 200
DE • B.J. Larsen, Sr., 6-5, 278; Ricky Ali'ifua, So., 6-3, 275
NG • Elvis Kamana-Matagi, Sr., 6-2, 298; Travis Seefeldt, Jr., 6-2, 310
DE • Jordan Nielsen, Jr., 6-5, 265; Edmund Faimalo, Jr., 6-3, 290
OLB • Kyler Fackrell, Jr., 6-5, 245; Torrey Green, Jr., 6-2, 220
ILB • Zach Vigil, Sr., 6-2, 232; Jarom Baldomero, Jr., 6-0, 230
ILB • Nick Vigil, So., 6-2, 230; La'Bradford Harold, Jr., 5-11, 225
OLB • Ian Togiai, Fr., 6-2, 230; LT Filiaga, Jr., 6-0, 250
CB • Daniel Gray, So., 5-11, 170; Tyler Floyd, Jr., 5-9, 185
FS • Brian Suite, Sr., 6-3, 205; Devin Centers, So., 5-9, 190
SS • Frankie Sutera, So., 5-9, 190; Marwin Evans, Jr., 6-1, 195
CB • Rashard Stewart, Sr., 5-11, 185; Marquan Ellison, So., 5-11, 175
P • Jaron Bentrude, Sr., 6-1, 209
PK • Nick Diaz, Sr., 5-8, 182; Jake Thompson, So., 6-0, 200
LS • Mark Hutchinson, Jr., 5-11, 200
HLD • Jaron Bentrude, Sr., 6-1, 209
PR • JoJo Natson, Jr., 5-7, 151
KOR • Kelvin Lee, Jr., 5-10, 187 The Aggies will succeed if ...
Quarterback Chuckie Keeton and RB Joe Hill stay healthy. This is Keeton's last shot and the quarterback plans to make the best of it. He is healthier and smarter on the football field. The Aggies will need all those tools, and a good supporting cast in Hill, to be successful against a tough schedule.
The Aggies won't succeed if ...
The secondary is one of the most inexperienced spots with safety Brian Suite being the lone returning starter. The Aggies brought in several JC players to make up for inexperience. If they don't step up and USU gives up big plays in the secondary, the Aggies could suffer.
Bottom line ...
The Aggies have the talent to be successful this season despite a tough schedule. If the offensive line and secondary develop like the coaches believe it will, Utah State could go to a very good bowl and contend for the league title.