LAS VEGAS — Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton got his junior season off to a superb start, only to have it derailed by a knee injury in Game 6.
Back healthy as a senior, he’s generating plenty of hype as the Mountain West’s preseason offensive player of the year and, potentially, a dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate.
The Utah State sports information department has gotten an early start on a potential Heisman campaign, distributing reporter’s notebooks with his picture on the front with the slogan: “Chuckie 4 Heisman.” The top of his individual pages in the team media guide also have 2014 Heisman Trophy candidate is across the top.
Not that any of that concerns Keeton.
“There’s no such thing as rollover stats; if anything I kind of want to bring new light to our offense,” he said Tuesday at the first day of the Mountain West media day.
Keeton threw for 1,385 yards and 18 touchdowns with two interceptions through the first five games before having his season cut short.
He was looking to gain an extra yard against BYU on Oct. 4 and ended up tearing his left anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. Keeton missed the rest of the season, but the Aggies played well without him, winning the Mountain Division — they lost the conference title game to Fresno State — and beating Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Though the 6-foot-2, 200-pound focal point of Utah State’s offense won’t know how his knee really is until he takes his first hit, he’s looking forward to leading his team again.
“I can’t really say my style is going to change or anything like that,” said Keeton, who has thrown for 5,961 career yards and rushed for another 1,153. “I’ve just got to be able to make plays when the time presents itself in order to get my team to the best position.”
Keeton spent much of his down time on schoolwork, rehabilitation and lifting weights. Now that he’s back, he’s shying away from all the preseason hype and Heisman chatter, something that doesn’t surprise his coach.
“Respect and care for your teammates is one of our core values we use in our program, he does it as good as anybody,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said.
The Aggies open their season at Tennessee, on Aug. 31.
Here are more things to know from the Mountain West media days:
HAWAII HOT SEAT?
With more than 40 years’ experience, Hawaii coach Norm Chow enters his third season as a head coach with a 4-20 record. The Rainbow Warriors haven’t had a winning season since 2010, when Greg McMackin was in charge. Hawaii, which appeared in eight bowls during a 12-year span (1999-2010), hasn’t looked anything like the offensive powerhouse it once.
LIFE WITHOUT CARR
Defending conference champion Fresno State was again picked by the media as the favorite to win the West Division. They’ll have to do it without record-breaking quarterback Derek Carr, who was drafted by the Oakland Raiders. The good news for the Bulldogs is they return 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Derron Smith, who earned the preseason nod on Tuesday.
NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN
Wyoming ushers in a new era with coach Craig Bohl, who led North Dakota State to three straight FCS National Championships and an 11-year record of 104-32. He inherits a team that returns 17 starters and 44 lettermen from last season, when the Cowboys opened the season 4-2, but finished 1-5. The Cowboys have had just two winning season the last nine years, the last in 2011, when they finished 8-5.
TWO THE HARD WAY
UNLV reached several goals last season, finally winning more than two games under coach Bobby Hauck, snapping a 23-game road losing skid and advancing to a bowl game for the first time since 2000. With the most offensive players on the preseason all-conference team, the Rebels are looking to up the ante: Winning their division, then the conference championship and, eventually, a bowl game.
When camp opens next month and hitting begins, Nevada will implement Guardian Caps, a one-size-fits-all helmet cover that can be worn on any current football helmet. According to the product’s website, more than 23,000 caps are currently being used by high schools and colleges, including Clemson and South Carolina. “If they do lessen some of the impacts that the line of scrimmage players take throughout training camp and the course of a practice week, then I’m all for it,” Nevada coach Brian Polian said. “I’m willing to look hard at anything that is for player safety.”