When Utah State travels to Los Angeles on Saturday, the Aggies and quarterback Chuckie Keeton will have the opportunity to make a national splash against Pac-12 power USC.
It's a challenge that national pundits and Trojans coach Lane Kiffin believe Keeton is prepared for.
Earlier this week, Kiffin paid a big compliment to Keeton, comparing him to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, the dual-threat signal caller who led Seattle into the playoffs last season as a rookie.
"You can't tackle him, he runs around and makes every throw, he doesn't seem to get rattled and he plays great in big games," Kiffin said about Keeton, according to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. "This is a really special player."
During his senior season at Wisconsin, Wilson threw for 3,175 yards, 33 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also rushed for 338 yards and six touchdowns, helping him finish ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
In his rookie season with Seattle after being picked in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft, Wilson threw for 3,118 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions while completing 64.1 percent of his passes. He also ran for 489 yards and four touchdowns.
This year, his Seahawks are off to a 2-0 start, including a 29-3 victory over NFC West rival San Francisco last week.
Keeton, who at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds is three inches taller than the Seahawks' quarterback, is on pace this year to put up better numbers than those Wilson compiled his senior season at Wisconsin.
Three games into 2013, the Aggies' junior quarterback is seventh in the country in total offense, averaging 370.0 yards per game. He's thrown for 932 yards — with a 78.1 completion percentage — 12 touchdowns and one interception; Keeton also leads Utah State with 187 rushing yards and one touchdown.
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah named Keeton one of five college football players to watch in this weekend's action, calling the Aggies' game against USC "a huge challenge for Keaton."
"Keeton is one of the hidden gems in college football," Jeremiah said. "The junior signal caller is an outstanding playmaker and he'll have a chance to make a bold statement on Saturday, when Utah State heads to the L.A. Coliseum to take on USC."
The stage is set for Keeton to slip into the Heisman discussion with a big game. The Utah State athletics department has already launched a Heisman campaign for Keeton, #Chuckie4Heisman.
Keeton is not a stranger to big stages. As a true freshman in his first college game, he nearly led Utah State to an upset victory over defending national champion Auburn. That day, he threw for 213 yards and rushed for two touchdowns in the narrow 42-38 loss to the Tigers.
Last year at Wisconsin, Keeton threw for 181 yards and two touchdowns while leading the Aggies with 75 rushing yards in a 16-14 loss to the Badgers.
The Trojans will present another tough challenge, as USC is ranked fourth nationally in total defense, giving up 212.3 yards per game. The Trojans are also eighth in the country in scoring defense (10.0 points per game) and second nationally in rushing defense, giving up 43.7 yards on the ground.
But NFL Draft 365 writer Dan Greenspan said, "USC hasn't faced an offensive weapon comparable" to Keeton.
"He has plenty of experience on the biggest of stages," Greenspan wrote. "It shows in his poise and decision-making, playing in such a way that descriptions of Keeton as a bigger Russell Wilson are almost a given."
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @brandonljudd
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company