After playing in back-to-back bowl games for just the third time in school history, Utah State football enters a new era in 2013 as it will begin competition in the Mountain West Conference and do so under the direction of first-year head coach Matt Wells.
Despite the change in conference affiliation and change in leadership, Utah State appears to be on solid ground heading into the 2013 season as it returns 18 starters and 49 letterwinners from last year’s team that set school records for wins and home wins. USU also won its first outright conference championship since 1936 during the 2012 campaign and finished the year ranked 16th in the Associated Press Poll and 22nd in the Bowl Championship Series Standings.
Offensively, Utah State returns four players who earned various all-Western Athletic Conference honors a year ago including junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton, senior center Tyler Larsen and senior offensive tackle Eric Schutlz, who were all named to the first-team. In 2012, USU’s offense ranked among the top 30 nationally in five categories, while setting school records for total offense and total points.
Defensively, Utah State has six all-league players returning, including two first-team linebackers in senior Jake Doughty and sophomore Kyler Fackrell. In 2012, USU’s defense ranked among the top 15 nationally in five categories, including finishing seventh in scoring defense (15.4 ppg), 13th in rushing defense (113.8 ypg) and 14th in total defense (322.1 ypg).
Heading into 2013 and into the Mountain West, Utah State will carry plenty of momentum with it having won 16 of its last 19 games overall, including eight-straight at home and 11-straight in league play, which includes six straight on the road. USU also finished 2012 by winning each of its last seven games.
Utah State returns a two-year starter in Keeton. In his first two years at USU, Keeton has started 21 games and ranks first all-time in school history with a career completion percentage of 65.6 percent. Keeton also ranks seventh all-time at USU in total offense (5,485 yards), and ninth all-time in passing yards (4,573) and completions (381).
As a sophomore, Keeton earned first-team all-WAC honors after ranking 17th nationally in total offense (307.1 ypg), 18th in passing efficiency (154.7) and 29th in passing (259.5 ypg).
During the 2012 season, Keeton set single-season school records for touchdown passes (27), passing yards (3,373), total offense (3,992 yards), completions (275) and completion percentage (.676), while setting the single-game record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 121 yards at Louisiana Tech.
Along with earning first-team all-league honors as a sophomore, Keeton was also named the WAC’s Offensive Player of the Week four times during the course of the season as he had at least two touchdown passes in 10 games and rushed for a touchdown in eight games. He also threw for at least 300 yards three times in the last five games of the season and five times overall.
In all, Keeton concluded his sophomore season completing 275-of-407 passes for 3,373 yards with 27 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran the ball 129 times for 619 yards with eight touchdowns.
Utah State also returns its backup at quarterback in junior Craig Harrison, who appeared in seven games in his first year at USU and finished the season completing 8-of-9 passes for 63 yards.
For the second time in as many years, Utah State must replace a first-team all-league running back after the graduation of Kerwynn Williams who earned honorable mention All-American honors from SI.com after rushing for 1,512 yards on 218 carries (6.9 ypc) and 15 touchdowns. Williams also ranked second on the team with 45 receptions and 697 receiving yards (53.6 ypg), and tied for first on the team with five receiving touchdowns.
The leading candidate to fill Williams’ shoes heading into fall camp is junior Joe Hill. In his first two years at USU, Hill has appeared in 19 games and accumulated 293 rushing yards on 50 carries (5.9 ypc) with eight touchdowns, while adding 12 receptions for 209 yards and two touchdowns. As a sophomore, Hill played in 12 games and rushed for 269 yards on 43 carries (6.3 ypc) with seven touchdowns, while catching 10 passes for 183 yards (18.3 ypc) and two touchdowns. His best game of his career thus far was the season opener in 2012 against Southern Utah as he rushed for a career-high 116 yards on just 11 carries and scored three touchdowns. Hill also caught a career-best three passes for a career-high 88 yards during his sophomore season against UNLV.
Other returners who should see playing time in 2013 include seniors Joey DeMartino and Robert Marshall, and sophomore Kelvin Lee. DeMartino, who has played in 18 games at Utah State, rushed for 157 yards on 29 carries (5.4 ypc) during the 2010 season, while registering two catches for 14 yards. Marshall, who missed spring ball after recovering from a knee injury suffered at San Jose State, has played in 29 games during his Aggie career. During his first three years at USU, he has rushed for 281 yards on 63 carries (4.5 ypc) with two touchdowns, while adding seven receptions for 61 yards (8.7 ypr). Lee played in 11 games as a true freshman a year ago and finished fourth on the team in carries (29) and rushing yards (130). Lee also caught two passes for 42 yards during the season. His best game as a true freshman was at UTSA as he rushed for 46 yards on nine carries and added two receptions for 42 yards.
Another player who could figure into the rotation is junior college transfer Rashad Hall who earned first-team all-conference honors as a sophomore at Contra Costa (Calif.) College as he rushed for 1,402 yards on 226 carries as a sophomore with 16 touchdowns.
Despite the graduation of Kellen Bartlett, who played in 43 games at tight end during his career and earned honorable mention all-WAC honors as a senior, Utah State returns plenty of talent and experience here highlighted by senior D.J. Tialavea. During his Aggie career, Tialavea has played in 26 games and has caught 13 passes for 105 yards (8.1 ypc) with two touchdowns.
Also returning at tight end is junior Keegan Andersen, who has played in 21 games during his first two years at USU and has caught three passes for 27 yards (9.0 ypc). Two other players who will be looking for playing time at tight end include junior Jefferson Court who is moving from linebacker and sophomore Derek Keller who played mainly on special teams a year ago.
The position on offense that has the most questions heading into fall camp is wide receiver after the graduation of two starters in Matt Austin and Chuck Jacobs. Austin, who earned second-team all-WAC honors as a senior, played in 27 games during his career and caught 83 passes for 1,253 yards (15.1 ypc) with 11 touchdowns. Jacobs, who was an honorable mention all-WAC honoree as a senior, played in 26 games overall and caught 61 passes for 826 yards (13.5 ypc) and seven touchdowns. A third player who graduated after making solid contributions in 2012 was Cameron Webb who caught 25 passes for 273 yards (10.9 ypc) with one touchdown as a senior.
Despite three key losses here, Utah State does return several players with experience, including senior Travis Reynolds who started eight games a year ago and has played in 30 games during his career, while catching 37 passes for 344 yards (9.3 ypc) with one touchdown. Fellow senior Travis Van Leeuwen has played in 36 games overall and has caught 43 passes for 528 yards (12.3 ypc) with three touchdowns.
Other Aggies who should see more playing time in 2013 include sophomores Bruce Natson and Brandon Swindall. Natson played in 12 games as a true freshman and caught 17 passes for 132 yards (7.8 ypc) with one touchdown, while Swindall caught three passes for 19 yards (6.3 ypc) in eight games a year ago.
Other than at quarterback, the biggest offensive strength for Utah State heading into the 2013 season is on the offensive line as it returns all five starters and 10 letterwinners who have combined for 110 career starts and 161 career games played while at USU.
Headlining this group is Larsen who is a two-time first-team all-WAC honoree. Overall, Larsen has started all 38 games during his collegiate career to rank first in the Mountain West and tied for fifth in the nation.
Joining Larsen as returning all-league starters on the offensive line in 2013 is Schultz and senior left guard Jamie Markosian. Schultz, who has started 32 consecutive games and played in 37 during his Aggie career, earned first-team all-WAC honors as a junior. Markosian, who has started 15 games and played in 31 games during his USU career, earned second-team all-WAC honors as a junior.
USU’s other two returning starters are twins in junior Kevin Whimpey and senior Kyle Whimpey. Kyle Whimpey started all 13 games at right guard in his first year at USU, while Kevin Whimpey started the final 12 games of the year at left tackle.
Other players with experience in the program include senior Sini Tauauve’a who played in six games in 2012, juniors Joe Summers and Bryce Walker who played in five games, sophomore Taani Fisilau who appeared in six games, and sophomore Logan Malohifo’ou who played in seven games in 2012.
Utah State’s offense in 2012 ended up being one of the best in school history, statistically, as it set single-season school records for total points (454), total offense (6,108 yards), completions (285), completion percentage (.679), total yards per game (469.8) and total yards per attempt (6.83), while ranking second in points per game (34.9), total passing yards (3,445), first downs (272) and touchdowns (59).
With its 41-15 win against Toledo in the 2012 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Utah State extended its own school record by scoring 38-plus points in seven-straight games and bettered the previous school record of 38-plus points in three-straight games accomplished six times.
Utah State had 72 plays in 2012 that were 20-plus yards, including 10 rushes and eight passes of at least 50 yards. Running back Kerwynn Williams led the team with 29 of those type of plays (21-rushing, 8-receiving). On the season, Utah State averaged 5.5 of these plays per game.
Utah State has had a player rush for at least 100 yards 30 times in the last four years, including nine times in 2012. Prior to that, USU produced a 100 yard rusher 23 times in the previous eight seasons combined. Furthermore, USU has had a player rush for 200 or more yards three times in the past two seasons but just once in the previous 10 seasons combined.
Utah State returns four offensive players who earned various all-WAC accolades in 2012 as junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton, senior offensive center Tyler Larsen and senior offensive tackle Eric Schultz were all named to the first-team, while senior offensive guard Jamie Markosian was named to the second-team.
Senior offensive center Tyler Larsen was named to the WAC’s first-team for the second year in a row in 2012 and was one of just six players in the conference to earn first-team all-league honors for the second time. Overall, Larsen is the 33rd player in school history to be a two-time first-team all-league selection.
Junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton was named the WAC’s Offensive Player of the Week four times during the 2012 season, becoming the first player in school history to accomplish that feat. Keeton was also the first WAC player to earn four player of the week honors in a single season since 2010. Overall, Keeton has been named the WAC’s Player of the Week five times during his career.
Doug Hoffman is the assistant athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.