Chuckie Keeton Will Lead Utah State to a Win Over Tennessee

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Tennessee fans have every right to be excited for the 2014 season and beyond—Butch Jones has created a new energy in Knoxville, starting the much-needed revival the Volunteers have desperately cried out for since the early 2000s. There are potential stars and NFL draft picks all over the roster, with plenty more to come if recent recruiting trends continue.

But the second Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton steps on the field at Neyland Stadium on Sunday, none of that will matter—he’s going to lead the Aggies to an upset win over Tennessee.]

“We’re playing a football team that we all know is a very, very, very talented, very good football team, very confident football team, and very deservingly so,” Jones told 247Sports. “They’ve won 25 of their last 33 games, 11-5 in their last 16 road games, very well coached. They’re a team that presents many challenges for you.

“First of all, offensively, we all understand what we’re in store for with Chuckie Keeton. He can make every throw from the quarterback position, but he adds a whole ‘nother dynamic in terms of being able to run the football. They’re big, strong and physical up front, and very, very skilled on the perimeter. We anticipate a lot of quick screens, a lot of bubble screens, quick touches.”

Keeton has had an incredibly underrated career thus far, and his senior season is looking to be his best year up to date. He owns a 17-10 record as a starter with Utah State, completing 66.5 percent of his passes for 5,961 yards, 56 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, adding 1,153 yards and 14 scores on the ground.

In six starts before tearing his ACL, Keeton was well on his way to what would have been a performance similar to that of Fresno State’s Derek Carr—or possibly even better. Keeton was hitting 70 percent of his targets with 20 total touchdowns, showing his insane abilities as a pass-first dual-threat quarterback.

Sure, there’s the argument that the level of competition Utah State plays isn’t nearly up to par with the kind of problems Tennessee may present. The Mountain West Conference isn’t a member of the Power 5, and Fresno State didn’t help the cause by losing to San Jose State and then succumbing to USC’s superiority down the stretch of the 2013 season.

Keeton has made 24 starts against FBS programs, all of which have combined to average the 71st-ranked scoring defense over the last three seasons. That’s somewhere in the middle of average and mediocre.

However, it’s what he’s done against the quality defense that leads me to believe he’s ready to take the next step and win a marquee game in Rocky Top, USA.

Since 2011, Keeton has played six opponents that finished with a Top-25 scoring defense (BYU, 2011; Wisconsin, BYU, and San Jose State, 2012; USC and BYU, 2013). In those games, he completed 104 of his 181 attempts (57.5 percent) and threw 10 touchdowns to just one interception.

He’s led three near upsets on the road vs. Auburn, Wisconsin, and USC (2011, ’12, and ’13), losing by a combined nine points.

It’s quite obvious that Tennessee is quietly putting the pieces back together after a hiatus from national relevance, but Jones has to deal with replacing every starter on both the offensive and defensive line. Games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage, and this is where the Vols’ biggest question mark remains heading into the season.

Last year, Tennessee’s scoring defense ranked No. 79 in the nation (29.0 points allowed per game). Keeton is 9-3 when facing teams with a defense ranked 78th or lower, and all three of those losses came during his true freshman campaign.

He’ll be on a 10-game winning streak when it comes to that stat following Sunday night.