SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Sports) - Utah State has a new logo, new uniforms, and a new winning attitude as it gets ready to open training camp Thursday in Logan.
Coming off its first winning season in 15 years, and first bowl game appearance in 14 years, Utah State is primed to make a run at a conference championship in its final season in the WAC.
"When I took the job, I expected to build a winning program," head coach Gary Andersen, who is entering his 4th season at Utah State. "We had a winning season last year, we got ourselves to a bowl game, but a consistent winner is what makes a program in my opinion."
After a 7-6 season, including a last-second heartbreaking 24-23 loss to Ohio in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Andersen wants to take his team to the next level and win its first bowl game since 1993.
"No question winning a bowl game is big," he said. "So is winning a conference championship. All the things that everybody wants this time of year is very similar. But that's where we expect to be. When our kids break a huddle now, they say, 'WAC champs!' and that's what they want."
The biggest question Andersen has to answer in training camp is who is starting quarterback will be. Chuckie Keeton will get the first shot. The sophomore was on pace for a solid season, passing for 1200 yards, 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions before going down with a season-ending injury in the 8th game of the year at Hawaii.
Adam Kennedy stepped in and the Aggies offense didn't skip a beat. Kennedy threw for 972 yards and 11 touchdowns over the final five games. Andersen would like to see one quarterback separate himself during training camp.
"Chuckie won the job a year ago, but they both had success and they both won games," Andersen said. "The fact that they've both come in and won games does an important thing, and that is that our kids believe in both quarterbacks."
Bobby Wagner, Robert Turbin and Michael Smith all got selected in the NFL Draft in April, so Andersen will be looking for new leadership during camp.
"We have some guys that I know will step up, but it's tough replacing guys like that," he said. "But it shows the talent level in our program now."
This will be Utah State's final year in the depleted Western Athletic Conference. The Aggies, who were picked to finish second behind Louisiana Tech, are moving on to the Mountain West Conference in 2013, but they'd love to leave with a conference title.
"It will be a very contested conference," Andersen said. "I do not believe anybody is going to run the table. I don't know a lot about the [new] Texas teams, but it will be a fight."
The Aggies will have their hands full with their non-conference schedule, which includes Wisconsin, BYU and Utah.
"It's very challenging, which is good for us," Anderson said about the schedule. "We get to play three in-state games. We get Southern Utah, we get BYU and we get Utah at our place. It's just a tremendous opportunity. The BYU and Utah games will both be on national television, and I think that says a lot about our program."
In all, Andersen has the Utah State program on the rise, and he doesn't see it coming down anytime soon.
"Utah State is a tremendous place," he said. "There's a lot of things moving in the right direction. The fan base is unbelievable, and it's a special place because they say it all the time, 'once an Aggie, always an Aggie.'"
Utah State kicks off the season August 30th at home against Southern Utah.