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Utah State ranked No. 42, Aggies count on Keeton to help lead run to Mountain West title

The Orlando Sentinel's college insider Matt Murschel has ranked all 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country entering the 2014 season. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 128 to our projected No. 1 team. 

Today at No. 42: Utah State Aggies 

Coach: Matt Wells (9-5, entering second season; 9-5 overall)

2013 record: 9-5 (7-1 in Mountain West, first in Mountain Division) 

Look back: Utah State faced the challenge of identifying a new head football coach after Gary Andersen left the school to take over as Wisconsin's coach. The school hired Matt Wells, a Utah State graduate who had been an assistant coach for the Aggies since 2011, to take over the program.

The Aggies started the year with a 3-2 mark, then suffered a pair of losses to BYU and Boise State. Worse yet, starting quarterback Chuckie Keeton was sidelined for the remainder of the season due to a knee injury he suffered against the Cougars. It could have marked the start of a long skid.

Instead, Utah State leaned on its defense to win five consecutive games and the Mountain Division title. The Aggies faced off with then-No. 24 Fresno State in the league title game, falling 24-17. Utah State closed the season a high note, claiming a 21-14 win over then-No. 24 Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Wells was named Mountain West Conference coach of the year after helping the Aggies make three consecutive bowl appearances for the first time in school history. 

Offensive starters returning:

Offensive starters lost:

Defensive starters returning:

Defensive starters lost:

Key losses: OL Tyler Larsen, LB Jake Doughty, DL AJ Pataili'I, DB Maurice Alexander, DB Joey DeMartino, OL Jamie Markosian, OL Eric Schultz 

Top returnees: QB Chuckie Keeton, RB Joe Hill, WR Bruce Natson, OL Kevin Whimpey, TE Wyatt Houston, LB Zach Vigil, LB Kyle Fackrell, S Brian Suite, DL BJ Larsen, DL Jordan Nielsen 

Strengths: Keeton, one of the top passers in the Mountain West conference, should be back at full strength to help lead the Aggies' offense. He ranks first in Utah State history in completion percentage ( .665), second in touchdown passes (56), second in completions (517) and third in total offense (7,114 yards).

While Keeton was a key playmaker, Utah State's defense played a big role in its success. The team ranked No. 12 in total defense (330.9 yards allowed per game). Linebacker Zach Vigil and linebacker Kyler Fackrell will help anchor the defense.

Weaknesses: The Aggies lost some key performers in the trenches, with five players who started at least five games on the offensive line all leaving the program. The departures include All-Mountain West selections Tyler Larsen, Jamie Markosian and Eric Schultz. On the defensive line, the Aggies must offset the loss of AJ Pataili'I, Paul Piukala and Connor Williams. 

Outlook: If Utah State can plug key holes on the offensive line, Keeton and a strong defense should help the team contend for a Mountain West Conference title. 

2014 Schedule

Aug. 31 at Tennessee

Sept. 6 Idaho State

Sept. 13 Wake Forest

Sept. 20 at Arkansas State

Oct. 3 at BYU

Oct. 11 Air Force

Oct. 18 at Colorado State

Oct. 25 UNLV

Nov. 1 at Hawaii

Nov. 7 at Wyoming

Nov. 15 New Mexico

Nov. 21 San Jose State

Nov. 29 at Boise State


Previously revealed on the countdown:

No. 43 Iowa

No. 44 Miami

No. 45 Rice

No. 46 Ball State

No. 47 Texas

No. 48 Penn State 

No. 49 East Carolina

No. 50 North Carolina

No. 51 Minnesota

No. 52 Texas-San Antonio

No. 53 Toledo

No. 54 Oregon State

No. 55 Georgia Tech

No. 56 Maryland

No. 57 Vanderbilt

No. 58 Ohio

No. 59 Louisiana

No. 60 Mississippi State 

No. 61 Central Michigan

No. 62 North Texas

No. 63 Buffalo

No. 64 Kansas State

No. 65 Arizona 

No. 66 Pittsburgh

No. 67 Arkansas State

No. 68 Middle Tennessee State

No. 69 Troy

No. 70 Colorado State

No. 71 Western Kentucky

No. 72 San Diego State

No. 73 Syracuse

No. 74 Rutgers

No. 75 Tulane

No. 76 ULM

No. 77 UNLV

No. 78 Texas State

No. 79 Akron

No. 80 San Jose State

No. 81 Washington State

No. 82 Nevada

No. 83 Old Dominion

No. 84 Boston College

No. 85 Kent State

No. 86 South Alabama

No. 87 FAU

No. 88 Indiana

No. 89 Tennessee

No. 90 TCU

No. 91 SMU

No. 92 Colorado

No. 93 Memphis

No. 94 Air Force

No. 95 UConn

No. 96 Arkansas

No. 97 Illinois

No. 98 NC State 

No. 99 West Virginia

No. 100 Wake Forest

No. 101 Utah

No. 102 Louisiana Tech

No. 103 Wyoming

No. 104 UTEP

No. 105 New Mexico

No. 106 Iowa State

No. 107 Kentucky

No. 108 Idaho

No. 109 Tulsa

No. 110 Western Michigan

No. 111 New Mexico State

No. 112 Southern Miss

No. 113 Temple

No. 114 Army

No. 115 Purdue

No. 116 USF

No. 117 UAB

No. 118 Eastern Michigan

No. 119 Virginia

No. 120 Miami (Ohio) 

No. 121 Cal

No. 122 Kansas

No. 123 UMass

No. 124 Georgia Southern

No. 125 Hawaii

No. 126 Appalachian State

No. 127 FIU

No. 128 Georgia State


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