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Utah State football 2014: Bowl picture is wide open for Aggies--if they want it

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If any year is the year for the Utah State Aggies football team to make national noise, this is it. Chuckie Keeton is a legitimate candidate to win the Heisman Trophy. Utah State itself returns six starters--including Keeton who sat out last year due to an ACL tear.

Head coach Matt Wells is the reigning Mountain West Conference coach of the year--which he won in his first season as a coach, and Utah State's first in the conference. As good as the Aggies were last season--and they were at 9-4 overall, winning the Poinsettia Bowl over Northern Illinois convincingly--they can be even better this year.

That's a lot for any team to swallow, in particular one that opens on Sun. Aug. 31 at Tennessee in front of 102,00 fans, swimming like a lone shark in a sea of orange killer whales. At first glance, thinking that Utah State will win 10 or more games might be a fool's errand.

On one hand, early returns had the Aggies--and Keeton--possibly contending for a conference title, and dreaming for a shot at the first-ever College Football Playoff. Other Web sites like CBS Sports think the Aggies won't even win their division--instead placing them in the New Mexico Bowl against Rice.

Not every prognosticator has Utah State going to Albuquerque. The Orlando Sentinel, for example, has the Aggies going to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Ball State in its prediction on Sunday. Same deal with Phil Steele.

ESPN is more generous in its prediction, putting the Aggies in either the Las Vegas Bowl--as the conference champion--or in the Hawaii Bowl. College Sports Madness? They think the Aggies are going back to the Poinsettia. Those predictions seem more in line with what Utah State fans want--but let's face facts.

The Las Vegas Bowl--and in particular, the Poinsettia--might not suffice for long-starving Aggies fans who couldn't ask for a better scenario. Their Heisman QB candidate is back. Their coach of the year is back. Even their running back, Joe Hill--he's back from injury, too.

Of course Utah State's bowl placement ultimately depends on how it does over its first five games, a slate that includes teams like Tennessee, Wake Forest and BYU--with FCS doormat Idaho State and FBS sleeper Arkansas State thrown in for good measure.

Only two of those first five games are at home, however, setting the table for Utah State to secure an early spot in the Top 25 and more--provided the Aggies finally win big on a huge stage in the season opener and stay unbeaten before conference play begins.

Once conference play gets underway in October, Utah State gets Air Force at home, is at Colorado State and home to UNLV.

November brings trap games of all kinds. First, the Aggies play at Hawaii, a team that nearly upset No. 25 Washington--now coached by Chris Petersen, formerly of Boise State. Then Utah State has its hands full traveling to the dusty plains of Laramie to take on Wyoming.

Home games against New Mexico and San Jose State will wrap up a busy month--but not before the Aggies play on the blue turf at Boise State in the season finale, again setting the Aggies up for success beyond their wildest dreams, or results that some might deem unaccceptable in Chuckie Keeton's final year in Logan.

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