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Logan • The countdown board, which began at more than 100 at the start of the off-season, is now down to single digits in Utah State's locker room. Indeed, the Aggies will open against Southern Utah, to a large crowd, a brand new turf and enormous expectations for the first time in more than a decade.
USU fans haven't forgotten the thrill of making it to a bowl game last year. Gary Andersen capitalized on the momentum with his best recruiting class, and many think the Aggies have the two finest quarterbacks in the state with Chuckie Keeton and Adam Kennedy.
But there are questions. How will USU deal with the loss of Robert Turbin and Bobby Wagner, who are both expected to contribute as NFL rookies with the Seattle Seahawks? And can a secondary that proved porous a year ago be better, and force more turnovers?
"We have a deep team, but a lot of guys are unproven," Andersen said. "To be good, we have to not get too high or not get too low either. I believe this team has a lot of talent, but at the same time you have to do it on the field as well."
In what will likely be the last season of football existence for the Western Athletic Conference, Andersen's program stands a real chance of winning the league for the first time in school history.
The dynamics of the roster will change. Keeton, barring a last-minute change of mind from the coaching staff, will be the opening day starter for the second consecutive year. Instead of being a wide-eyed true freshman against Auburn, he will have much more responsibility as a more mature sophomore with a better grasp of the passing game.
Offensive coordinator Matt Wells has high hopes for wide receiver Matt Austin, who he believes could and should cause match-up issues for almost any team on Utah State's schedule. The running game, anchored by Kerwynn Williams, is expected to be less of a priority than last season. A new spread offense could yield big yardage early on.
Defensively, the linebackers and the secondary looks to be a strength, while the defensive line remains a question mark. While Wagner is gone, Bojay Filimoeatu, Tavaris McMillian and Jake Doughty all look poised for big seasons.
A road game at Louisiana Tech in November will likely determine who wins the conference. Utah State should be favored in every league game other than the showdown in Ruston against the Bulldogs.
"We're ready to get it started," safety McKade Brady said. "We think we have a good team, but we have to go out and prove it."
Utah State schedule
Aug. 30 • vs. Southern Utah, 6 p.m., KMYU
Sept. 7 • vs. Utah, 6 p.m., ESPN2
Sept. 15 • at Wisconsin,6 p.m., Big 10
Sept. 22 • at Colorado State, 5 p.m.
Sept. 29 • vs. UNLV,6 p.m.
Oct. 5 • at BYU, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Oct. 13 • at San Jose State*, 2 p.m.
Oct. 20 • vs. New Mexico State*, 1 p.m., KMYU
Oct. 27 • at UTSA*, noon
Nov. 3 • vs. Texas State*, 1 p.m., KMYU
Nov. 17 • at Louisiana Tech*, 5 p.m.
Nov. 24 • vs. Idaho*,1 p.m.
* Western Athletic Conference game
USU season outlook
Returning starters • 13 (7 offense, 6 defense)
Will succeed if • Chuckie Keeton matures in the passing game and Kerwynn Williams proves serviceable in his first year as a starting running back. The defensive line has to perform well, because the linebackers and secondary look talented. Of course, staying healthy is a must.
Will struggle if • Neither quarterback plays as well as last year without the blanket of Robert Turbin and the running game. The offensive line has to prove sound and sturdy and Tavaris McMillian has huge shoes to fill in Bobby Wagner's spot. If the defense fails to produce turnovers again, look out.