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Utah State football: Chuckie-for-Heisman hinges on opener

Published August 31, 2014 12:19 pm

Utah State has unleashed a full-on campaign for its star quarterback, with much more to come.
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Logan • Seeing his image and the words "Chuckie4Heisman" plastered on the front of notebooks at the Mountain West Conference's media gathering prompted Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton to say he was going to pass out the notebooks to his teammates.

"I'm going to make sure they take them to class," he joked.

While Keeton's good-natured take on all the publicity has made him a popular media figure in college football, Utah State's Heisman campaign is no joking matter.

Never before has the school launched such a publicity campaign for a player. There are the 1,500 notebooks that have been printed and mailed to media outlets, a dedicated website (chuckiekeeton.usu.edu) that details his bio and athletic achievements and an infinite number of videos, tweets and other social media onslaughts planned by the Utah State athletic department.

The way the Aggies see it, they've never had a player like Keeton on their roster — a guy who not only has the athletic ability to succeed against premier teams but also an engaging personality and catchy name Heisman voters love.

He could be Logan's own version of Johnny Football, only kinder, wiser, and just maybe, even better on the field.

"He is a win-win for us," said Doug Hoffman, Utah State's associate athletic director over media relations. "He is charismatic and a great player and it will help us get the message out not only about our program, but the entire university."

The closest such campaign the Aggies had was in the 1960s when the Aggies publicized Merlin Olsen as a candidate for the Outland Trophy, which he won. However, the school didn't have all the social media outlets the Aggies have now and plan to use in the coming weeks.

"It's free," Hoffman happily notes of the social media blitzkrieg he wants.

So too, in a way, is the publicity that Keeton could get if the Aggies beat Tennessee. The Sunday season opener in Knoxville gives Keeton a unique opportunity to showcase his skills, since the game was moved to a Sunday night so it could be televised on the SEC Network.

He'll have an audience of hungry football fans curious to know more about a quarterback whose fame is growing.

"As soon as that game was moved to a Sunday night, I started hearing, 'Oh yeah, Chuckie Keeton, didn't he almost beat Auburn?'" said national college football analyst Tony Barnhart. "People recognized it right away this is a big game and Tennessee fans are worried."

The Heisman campaign is in full force now, but it has been a long time coming. The Aggies actually planted the seeds of the Heisman campaign back in 2012 when Keeton and the Aggies were in the midst of the program's record-breaking season.

Then-coach Gary Andersen and Hoffman met and decided to start the Chuckie PR machine with the goal of launching it full force in 2013. So, as the 2012 season wound down, Andersen started referring to Keeton as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country.

"We didn't even throw the Heisman name out there," Hoffman said. "But coach Andersen wanted to make sure people started regarding him as one of the best quarterbacks in the country."

Hoffman and his staff were still in the planning stages of the Heisman campaign in the spring of 2013 when he received a phone call by some students from Miami who wanted to publicize a Heisman contender as part of their class project. Their pick was Keeton, a guy from a small school nestled in the foothills of the Wasatch mountains, not from some glitzy California school or power league.

"We knew we were on the right track," Hoffman said. "That kind of legitimatized things."

The students started the twitter account Chuckie4Heisman, an account the school continues to maintain with 1,043 followers.

The school also launched the dedicated website and mailed out trading cards with Keeton's likeness and stats on it.

Of course, even the best and most expensive campaign is worthless if the player doesn't perform on the field. Keeton's season started off well, but his hopes of a MWC title and the Heisman hype went away when he injured his knee against BYU on Oct. 4.

While disappointing, the injury hasn't hurt Keeton in the long run, Hoffman said. The Aggie sports information staff is merely looking at last year's campaign as a sort of trial run for this season.

"He is more nationally known now than ever," Hoffman said.

So the campaign is up and running again.

Like Andersen, current USU coach Matt Wells is fully behind the Heisman effort. Coaches normally don't like to exploit individual achievements, but having a Heisman candidate on your roster? It's prime recruiting bait.

"He is a tremendous spokesman and model for us," Wells said. "I know Chuckie Keeton is a very unselfish man and he gives everyone in the program credit for everything that comes his way. Besides, the more individual goals and accolades that are reached, the more team goals that are reached."

Barnhart said the Aggies were smart to start the PR machine now.

"Having a guy like that can only help your program," he said. "If Utah State goes in there and beats Tennessee and he has a good game, they are going to be talking about him on Monday."

That is exactly what the Aggies want, and need, to continue their rise in college football, said Scout.com analyst Brandon Huffman.

"It's a bigger deal for non-AQ/BCS schools to say they have a Heisman candidate, than say, a more established power," he said. "Boise State really emphasized Kellen Moore, Northern Illinois really pushed Jordan Lynch and Marshall pushed Randy Moss. It's really something important for the non-AQ schools to hang their hat on — it shows the exposure and staying power of the program to say you have a player who will get national attention and accolades."

Being in the midst of a Heisman campaign might go against the public persona Keeton has of being a team-first player, but he is all in, understanding the award isn't about just him.

"It's a great honor to represent Utah State on such a platform," Keeton said. "It's my name but Utah State is on our jersey."

If you are a Heisman voter, get ready for the notebooks, the emails, the videos, the tweets and anything else Hoffman and his staff can think of to make you think Heisman-Keeton, Keeton-Heisman.

"We have all sorts of things planned," Hoffman said. "We want people to know how he played." —

Utah State at Tennessee

O Sunday, 5 •06 p.m. MT

TV • SEC Network

Radio • Aggie Sports (610kvnu.com online)

Records • Season opener

Series history • First meeting

About the Aggies • The Aggies have won 25 of their last 33 games. Of those, eight have been by a combined 48 points…USU is 1-16 against the SEC with the lone win being a 35-6 victory over Kentucky in 1970. ... The game marks only the fourth time the Aggies have played on a Sunday.

About the Vols • The Vols have finished the last three seasons 5-7 and have not had a winning season since going 7-6 in 2009. ... Tennessee has sold out the home opener for the first time since 2007. ... Butch Jones is in his second year as the Vols' coach. ... Justin Worley is expected to start at quarterback after winning the job in camp. Worley missed part of the 2013 season after suffering an injury. —

Other Heisman hopefuls

Keeton has some tough competition in the Heisman race, here is a look at some of the other top candidates:

Jameis Winston, QB, FSU • The last player to win the Heisman twice was Archie Griffin in 1974-75. Winston has the talent to win it again, but will the voters give it to him?

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon • He'll have the numbers and the flash and PR that Oregon brings, but can he get the big wins? He'll need to beat UCLA on Oct. 11 to give his campaign some real heft.

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA • Voters like big stats and Hundley will deliver. He was 248-of-369 for 3,071 yards passing and 24 touchdowns in 2013. He should have even greater numbers this season, but like Mariota must win the Pac-12 marquee games.

Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor • Like Keeton, Petty is an underdog, but he put up the numbers last year, throwing for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns. Big games against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas will decide if the campaign is a must or a bust.

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia • He rushed 165 times for 989 yards playing much of 2013 on an injured ankle. He's thought by many to be the top back in college football.






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