College football • USU can accomplish much with a win.
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Logan • Chuckie Keeton watched from the stands of Romney Stadium as Utah State students rushed the field in celebration of a landmark victory over BYU.
That moment his official visit on a chilly fall night in 2010 sealed his desire to become an Aggie and play for Gary Andersen. Keeton's friends warned him that he committed to a school without any kind of winning football tradition. They told him that he would do more losing than winning, and that his life would be miserable because of it.
That's not how Keeton saw it.
"When I committed to Utah State, I wanted to play in games that mean something," he said this week. "We've done that. We've put ourselves in position to make this a memorable season."
The Aggies can turn their season into one they'll never forget Saturday afternoon, meeting Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La., with the Western Athletic Conference title on the line.
History suggests when taking into account everything Utah State can accomplish that this just may be the biggest regular-season game the Aggies have played, at least in the modern era.
A program with precious little football history, Utah State has never won 10 games (USU won nine in 1961). The Aggies have never gone unbeaten in the WAC. They have never beaten a ranked opponent on the road. They haven't been ranked since 1961.
"In terms of the stakes and the chance to win a championship and what it all means, this is as big a game as we have ever played," USU athletic director Scott Barnes said. "This will be our first chance in many years to crack the Top 25. The buzz and the atmosphere on campus is electric. We are on the verge of a historic season."
Barnes envisioned this day when he hired coach Gary Andersen prior to the 2009 season. Andersen has repeatedly talked about the goal of playing important games in November, and turning the end of the season into a meaningful time for the players and the program.
It has been a steady climb. USU went 4-8 in each of Andersen's first two seasons, then broke through for a 7-6 finish last year, led by stars Robert Turbin and Bobby Wagner, a pair of Brent Guy recruits who have gone on to the NFL with Seattle.
And while the general consensus heading into this season suggested USU would struggle without Wagner and Turbin, not many noticed that Andersen put together three straight solid recruiting classes.
That depth and athleticism, plus Keeton's emergence as a star, has allowed Utah State to explode this year. The Aggies are two missed kicks away from being 10-0 instead of 8-2. Defensively, they are listed in the top six in the country in three categories.
Keeton and senior running back Kerwynn Williams lead an offense that has scored at least 30 points in every WAC game. Even USU's special teams, a liability in recent years, has significantly improved.
"That's what excites me the most," Barnes said. "This is not a one-year deal. We have the depth and talent throughout the program to make this a sustainable run."
It has been 38 years since Utah State has won eight of its first 10 games. The Aggies are 13-3 in their last 16 games the best stretch for the program since 1971. In all, Utah State has won a school-record nine consecutive conference games. The Aggies' 4-0 start to conference play is the best stretch for the program since 2000.
While the program has improved on the field, the facilities have improved significantly as well. That's why the Aggies received and accepted an invitation to the Mountain West Conference six months ago. That's why Barnes has moved swiftly to extend Andersen's contract, hoping to fend off potential BCS schools looking for a coach in the offseason.
The future of the program has never looked brighter. Utah State is on the verge of making football history. A second straight bowl appearance is assured. The Aggies of the Merlin Olsen era are back.
"Obviously, this is a huge game for us, as well as Louisiana Tech," Andersen said. "I think it's fun to be involved in a game that has this much on the outcome, this late in the season. It's a great accomplishment by both sides to get to this point. We are very upbeat about our ability to compete in this game."
Utah State at Louisiana Tech
P Saturday, 2 p.m.
Internet • ESPN3
What the Aggies can accomplish
• First nine-win season since 1961.
• A potential national ranking.
• First unbeaten WAC season in school history.
• First road win over a ranked opponent in school history.
• Second win over a ranked opponent ever.
Biggest games in USU history
Nov. 26, 2011 • Utah State beats Nevada 21-17 to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 1997.
Oct. 1, 2010 • Utah State defeats BYU 31-16 in Gary Andersen's first win over an instate rival.
Nov. 4, 2000 • Utah State defeats New Mexico State 44-37 to qualify for the Big West title game.
Nov. 15, 1997 • Utah State defeats Nevada 38-19 to become bowl-eligible, win Big West Conference title.
Dec. 17, 1993 • Utah State defeats Ball State 42-33 to win the Las Vegas Bowl; won Big West Conference title.
Nov. 2, 1991 • Utah State defeats Fresno State 20-19. Last time the Aggies defeated a Top 25 team.
Nov. 24, 1979 • Utah State defeats Fresno State 41-31, wins PCAA title.
Nov. 23, 1974 • Utah State defeats Weber State 20-7 to cap an eight-win season.
Nov. 18, 1961 • Utah State defeats Utah 17-6. Aggies win Skyline title and finish 10th in the Associated Press poll.
Nov. 12, 1960 • Utah State defeats Pacific 45-6. Aggies win Skyline Conference title, are ranked 19th in the AP poll.
Nov. 21, 1936 • Utah State defeats Idaho 10-0. Aggies complete last unbeaten season in school history.
Nov. 29, 1917 • Utah State defeats Utah 14-0. Aggies complete first undefeated season in school history.