<em><em>Editor’s note: This is part eight of a nine part series that will highlight each position group of the USU football team leading up to the season opener on Aug. 30 against Southern Utah.</em></em>
<strong>LOGAN—</strong> In 2011, Aggie fans did not know who their starting quarterback would be until true freshman Chuckie Keeton trotted out onto the field and surprised with his calm and poise in a near upset of defending national champion Auburn.
Keeton started eight games for the Aggies, passing for 1,200 yards with 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He also ran for 293 yards and four scores.
Adam Kennedy – now a senior – stepped into the picture after Keeton was injured against Hawaii midway through the season and the junior college transfer subsequently led the Aggies to five consecutive (thrilling) wins to close the regular season and achieve bowl eligibility.
Kennedy finished the season with 972 passing yards to go along with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also added 239 rushing yards of his own.
USU head coach Gary Andersen has again elected to not name a starter publicly leading up to the season opener for the second year in a row, though it is widely speculated that Keeton will once again get the nod.
“I really see no reason to say anything before we play who the starter is. I guess we’ll flip a coin and let one of them call it and see who it is,” Andersen said. “We know who it is, but we’re just going to keep it underneath our hat.”
During fall camp, and especially in the scrimmages, Keeton has certainly looked like the clear choice. His footwork and passing have improved from a season ago, and he looks more comfortable with the offense. Kennedy though, has proven that he is a game day quarterback and performs at his best in the heat of battle.
“They both bring a great mind for the game and they’re tremendously talented young men. They’re very, very coachable. The thing that I’ll just say is Chuckie throws it a lot better than people think, and Adam runs it a lot better than people think,” USU offensive coordinator Matt Wells said. “I’d like to play them both. It’s hard these days in Division I football to get through a season with only one.”
Though Kennedy is an underrated rusher – he had 15 carries for 95 yards against New Mexico State last year – Keeton is clearly the more dynamic player in that regard. It is the sophomore’s dual threat ability that makes him the likely starter.
“We’ve talked about it a few times, but we finally figured it out. Adam is more of a drop back deep – he likes to take deep balls,” Keeton said. “With me, I’m more of a sit in the pocket and scramble. I like to create a little bit more, and I definitely like just fitting it into the small holes. That’s one thing that I’ve always like to do since I was younger.”
Whoever is playing quarterback for USU this year should get an opportunity to open up the offense a little after a run heavy attack in 2011. With future NFL draft picks Robert Turbin and Michael Smith in the backfield, the Aggies had the No. 6 rushing offense in the country. As a byproduct of that though, the passing offense ranked on the lower end of the FBS.
“Losing Robert and Michael Smith have allowed us to throw it a little bit more,” Keeton said. “We’ve worked on our routes a lot more, and it’s helped me out and it’s helped our receivers out. That’s definitely a big improvement from last year.”
Despite battling it out for the starting job each of the past two seasons, Keeton and Kennedy have become good friends with each other. The pair, along with Wells and Andersen, continually say that not naming a starter is not a stressful situation – at least for them.
“It doesn’t really start too much stress or anything like that, it really just keeps us competitive. We’re continuing to push each other and push ourselves,” Keeton said. “I know the most stressful person in this equation is definitely my dad. Every time we talk on the phone he asks if they’ve made a decision.”
Backing up the two incumbents is former Logan High QB Jeff Manning who is planning on red-shirting this season. The 6 foot 4 inch, 200 pound freshman served an LDS mission following his graduation from high school, and this will be his first year in the program.
Other new faces at the position include Freshman Mike Chislock (Huntington Beach, Calif./Huntington Beach HS), and sophomore Craig Harrison (Grantsville, Utah/Grantsville/Snow College). Harrison was brought in to bridge the gap should Keeton and Kennedy go down and the Aggies wish to preserve Manning’s redshirt.
“We just want to put up enough points in order for us to win. We can never really go into a season expecting to break a certain record or anything like that, but I feel we’re going to be dynamic this year, we have a lot of weapons,” Keeton said.