LOGAN — In the smoke-filtered sunshine, down in the end zone of Romney Stadium, the loudspeakers were again blasting out the oldies, same as last December when Utah State was readying for its first bowl game in 13 years.
This week it was an old Michael Jackson song, making it hard not to try a few of the Gloved One's moves. It's also hard to ignore the Aggies' rhythm these days. Last time USU entered a season coming off a bowl game was 1998. No wonder coach Gary Andersen plays dance music at practice.
"I think that any time you've been places you haven't been before, with success behind it, it's definitely a different feel," Andersen said. "For every kid in this program, it was a dream. To reach a dream is important. But how you handle it after that is the main stuff. In my mind, it's easier to achieve success than sustain success."
Ah, yes. The ever-popular don't-get-cocky approach. USU's trip to the Idaho Potato Bowl last winter was indeed a different deal. After decades of mostly failure, things finally seemed to be changing, even though they lost that bowl game in overtime. It's true that this year they're missing Bobby Wagner and Robert Turbin, now with the Seattle Seahawks. Especially at USU, that's a big loss. NFL prospects don't always set up base camp in Big Blue Country.
At the same time, the Aggies retained not one but two starting quarterbacks this year.
If there's a better signal-calling situation in this time zone, they want to know about it.
"I bet only a handful of teams in the country can say what we can say, which is if you put either guy in, you're going to win games," said quarterback Adam Kennedy. "We proved that last year. We know we're making it tough for the coaches, and sure, they're having a hard time deciding. But whatever way they go, we're gonna win games."
For all the noise about Utah being deep at quarterback, and BYU bringing back a seasoned Riley Nelson, USU has the best situation. If Utah starter Jordan Wynn goes down (again), the Utes are still looking at either Jon Hays, who has serious limitations, or an unproven freshman. BYU has Nelson, then some other guys, none of whom has started.
But the Aggies have Kennedy, who came on midseason when Chuckie Keeton got hurt, leading USU to five straight wins, plus the bowl start. Then there's Keeton, who began as last year's starter and probably has a slight lead again this year.
If Keeton returns as the starter, then Kennedy is just one play away. That's the case for backups everywhere. But not every team has a genuine winner in the wings.
"I think last year we all saw it. One scramble, one missed protection, anything can happen at any time, and so you just have to be ready to go in and luckily I was last year," Kennedy said. "Hopefully I'll be the guy this year, but if not, it's same approach and I'll be ready if anything does happen."
It's a lovely dilemma, one that is often mentioned at other schools, but seldom realized. Keeton passed for 1,200 yards and rushed for another 283, while Kennedy had 909 passing yards in the regular season and 228 more rushing. Keeton is an elusive double-threat player who gives defenses the twitches. Kennedy is a senior with better arm range. Keeton has started eight games for USU, Kennedy five, including the agonizing bowl loss to Ohio. But Kennedy was in charge for the dramatic finishes against Hawaii, San Jose State, Idaho, Nevada and New Mexico State.
USU won five games in the final minutes after losing heartbreakers at Auburn, Colorado State and BYU.9 comments on this story
"Those losses to Auburn, Colorado State, they were crushing. Then whatever happened against Hawaii, and the switch flipped," Kennedy said.
With under a minute to go in the regular-season finale against New Mexico State, Kennedy told teammates in the huddle, "Here we go again, boys."
"They all looked at me and said, 'Hey, we've already done this four times. Let's do it again,' " Kennedy continued.
Now the Aggies say they want to repeat their bowl appearance. That's big dreaming for a team that has seen only three bowl games since 1961.
But when someone's grooving like they have been lately, it's hard not to sing and dance along.