Who are the three most intriguing football players to wear Ute, Cougar and Aggie uniforms this season?
With fall camp kicking off in Provo Friday and in Salt Lake City and Logan over the weekend, there are a lot of candidates. At the quarterback position, there's the return of Travis Wilson at Utah, the hype over Taysom Hill in Provo, and the health status of Chuckie Keeton at Utah State. They're all no-brainers.
Some of my picks deviate just a little from the obvious.
I’ll take Keeton simply because of the impact he can have on the Aggie program and its challenge for a MWC title. It’ll always be a mystery as to what he and USU could have done last year had he not been injured.
He is as exciting of a football player as the state has seen in some time. He has the foot speed, elusive moves, accuracy and leadership to take USU on his back and have a special season, especially if he can find ways to defeat Boise State and BYU. If he can do something special on the road at Knoxville in the opener against Tennessee, he can open a great public relations campaign.
Keeton has produced 56 touchdowns and nearly 6,000 yards for the Aggies and you get the feeling he’s just scratched the surface. A native of Houston, he represents a significant recruiting coup geographically for the Aggies and his success can only enhance USU’s reaping of that talent garden.
The other QBs? While saluting their importance, I’m looking away from them.
I think Wilson’s situation is a work in progress. His obvious skill set and experience will be needed to navigate this brutal Ute schedule and he deserves the chance to prove himself. He was 4-2 as a young starter before injuries piled up and impacted his ability to perform. Right now, he is Utah’s best choice at that position.
But in the Ute and Cougar camp, I’m going to stray away from the QB expectations and populist target of preseason hype. No question that Hill and Wilson will dominate headlines in August, but this year, at this time, two guys that will catch passes from them have caught my eye.
Their names are Dres Anderson and Mitch Mathews.
These guys have my full attention as camp begins.
Anderson is a natural. He’s a game-breaker with numbers and video to back it up. He is the kind of player that keeps defensive coordinators awake at night. Whether in isolations, streaks, post bombs or stop-and-go's, he can do it all. He’s exciting, electric and the best scoring threat the Utes have in their arsenal as we look at preseason depth charts.
Anderson had six games of 100-yards worth of catches. He led Utah in every receiving category and did so with interrupted QB play. Still, he excelled and was so obvious a threat, it didn’t matter in the end.
Anderson’s numbers have come against some of the best talent in college football and he’ll be on stage once more as Utah takes on a schedule as tough as any in the country. For that reason alone, the big plays he makes should account for more credit at the end.
Mathews becomes a factor this year for BYU because he steps into a receiver void in the absence of Cody Hoffman, the school’s all-time leading receiver. Mathews is a different kind of player than Hoffman, but he has the same trust as Hoffman got from Hill as a target and they have thousands of passes between them this summer.
Mathews is a target. He’s 6 foot 6 and has a 37-inch vertical leap. He’s a perfect isolation target as a possession receiver with superior athletic ability and a matchup nightmare. With the Cougars fielding a well-rounded receiving corps — including newcomers Jordan Leslie, Devon Blackmon, Ross Apo and Nick Kurtz — Mathews is the natural leader.
The biggest setbacks in his career have been frequent injuries. But to understand Mathews’ abilities you have to look no further than BYU's game against a very good, bowl-bound USU defense in Logan last year when he caught three touchdown passes of 6, 43 and 30 yards. A month later, he had a season-ending injury at Wisconsin after one catch.
Hill needs a big, reliable target. Mathews fits that role like Dennis Pitta for Max Hall, Jonny Harline for John Beck and Gordon Hudson for Steve Young, although those guys were tight ends. Mathews, if healthy, can be a big playmaker.
His presence will get the other guys big catches and he will make Hill a better passer.
Keeton, Anderson and Mathews:
Guys you’d want on your offense anytime the possession changes.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.