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BOISE — The Utah State Aggies capped off an amazing season with a 41-15 win over the Toledo Rockets in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Saturday. And while the season was a massive success, the future success of the program is yet to be determined.
Four years into head coach Gary Andersen's tenure with the team, the culture and attitude about Aggie football has been completely transformed. The football program went from being a lowly program in years past to being a top-contender with a lot of heart and commitment to the program.
The Aggies ended with an 11-2 record, which is the best in school history. Additionally, the Aggies ended the season as WAC champions and are nationally ranked for the first time since 1961 when they won nine games. It goes without saying, but 2012 was a special season for the Aggies.
"It's unbelievable for the program," coach Andersen said. "To get to 11-2 and where we end up — we're going to be ranked at the end of the year obviously — and moving into a new conference, it starts everything off right as we continue to move forward."
And although the season was a great success for the Aggies, consistency continues to be key for Utah State if it hopes to be considered a top-tier program. That consistency is what coach Andersen is hoping to maintain after the team takes a moment to celebrate their bowl victory.
"That's a tremendous challenge to be a consistent winner," coach Andersen said. "I go back to the foundation of these guys and the foundation of every young man that's graduated from (Utah State) the last four years. This win, these championships, are not just for these kids that are here right now. It's for all those young men. They've said it. They've believed in our program enough. They've kept on fighting. And I believe that's how you stay consistent.
"We have a plan as a program, we have a belief, we have a system and tact, and we've got to keep following it," he added. "If we do that, I think we'll continue to be successful as long as we recruit right. If you don't recruit right, you lose."
And while coach Andersen gives much of the credit to the players for buying into the program and believing they can be successful, a lot can be said for coach Andersen's ability to recruit players and instill a sense of pride and commitment in the program.
Four years ago, coach Andersen recruited now-senior running back Kerwynn Williams. In the post game press conference, Williams described the attitude Coach Andersen had when he was being recruited.
"When (Coach Andersen) was recruiting me, everything he wanted to accomplish, he said it with such conviction in his voice that anybody would believe him," Williams said. "And I could tell that he really believed it and in what he was saying. I was excited to have this opportunity."
With seniors like Williams and Bojay Filimoeatu graduating, coach Andersen said he's confident the team will continue to be successful because of the level of expectation built up by the outgoing group of seniors.
"These (seniors) have created a level of expectation for these young players to come in January through August, and the way they expect themselves to prepare on and off the field in academics and everything else they do," he said. "The cupboard is not bare moving into the future."
Chuckie Keeton is an elite quarterback and will be an elite quarterback in the nation next year. Anytime anybody wants to talk about great quarterbacks that are in the country — there's some great one — but you better not make those conversations go too far without mentioning Chuckie Keeton's name in my opinion.
–Coach Gary Andersen
Much of the team's future success, however, will likely rest on the shoulders of sophomore quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who has added a spark and excitement to the program with his ability as a dual-threat quarterback.
In his second season with the team, Keeton set the single-season school record for completions with 275, breaking Jose Fuentes' 260 in 2001. Keeton also set the single-season school record for passing yards with 3,373 yards, breaking Fuentes' record set in 2002 with 3,268 yards. At the pace Keeton is going, he will likely break more records and could be known as the best quarterback in school history.
After Saturday's win, coach Andersen said any discussion about top quarterbacks in the country should always include Keeton. Andersen seemed to infer that if Keeton continues to have another strong seasons, he should be a candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
"Chuckie Keeton is an elite quarterback and will be an elite quarterback in the nation next year," coach Andersen said. "Anytime anybody wants to talk about great quarterbacks that are in the country — there's some great one — but you better not make those conversations go too far without mentioning Chuckie Keeton's name in my opinion."
Much of the team's future success will likely come from the leadership of coach Andersen and Keeton, who, with consistent winning, will change the culture at Utah State and propel the team into a spot as a viable contender every season.
However, much of that success will begin next season when the Aggies transition into the Mountain West Conference where the competition will be much improved and the chances of duplicating a season like the 2012 season will be difficult.