One of college football’s most exciting players to watch will return to the playing field in week one after seeing a promising 2013 season end prematurely. Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton was sidelined in early October last fall with a season-ending ACL and MCL tear that was suffered against BYU. It was a crime to the football world not to be able to see Keeton play the entire season and now we are left to wonder if having him on the field could have been just the difference needed for Utah State to top Fresno State in the Mountain west Conference championship game last fall.
In week one of the 2014 season Keeton is expected to be back to lead the Aggies on offense on the road in what could turn out to be one of the more enjoyable games of college football’s opening weekend. Utah State heads to Tennessee, a team I feel is on the rise under Butch Jones, and the Aggies will have their chance to get a leg up on the competition vying for the big bowl spot guaranteed for the highest conference champion from the so-called Group of Five (American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West Conference, Sun Belt Conference). It is a huge game for Utah State, and having Keeton back could be a deciding factor in Knoxville.
At this point I think it is clear as day just what I think of Keeton as a player. It is this confidence in Keeton that may have rubbed some BYU fans the wrong way on Twitter on Wednesday. It all started innocently enough when my friend from Mountain West Connection, Jeremy Mauss, retweeted a graphic from ESPN’s college football account highlighting five of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks. Mauss suggested Keeton should have been included in the mix. I agreed.
— Jeremy Mauss (@JeremyMauss) August 6, 2014
This sparked a response from a BYU fan, as I made light of the perceived ESPN bias toward schools and conferences it has deals with. I said it light-heartedly but sarcasm and my sense of humor rarely translate as well on Twitter as it might in person. For that, I had it coming. Suggesting Keeton should be on this arbitrary list of top dual-threats over a BYU quarterback Taysom Hill was said with a smile behind the typewriter, but I did honestly feel that way as I said put the Twitter conversation together. That is when BYU fans started to chime in, telling me they would take Hill or Keeton every day of the week (perhaps except for Sunday I suppose) and suggested Hill was a much better quarterback than Keeton.
Over the years I have come to really respect the loyalty of the BYU fans and I have enjoyed my conversations with them since I started gaining some BYU followers.I have learned a lot about the university and the football program by talking with them, and I still say there may be no other fan base that is as loyal and fair and open-minded when it comes to their program as BYU fans, at least in my interactions. I have a different opinion on this topic of course, and after being buried in my mentions by BYU fans I felt it was only fair to try and elaborate in more than 140 character bursts.
First, let me say that my preference for Keeton in no way diminishes my respect for Hill, a player I have made quite clear the last couple of years I enjoy watching as much as any. I watch a lot of BYU football, and Hill can be plenty of fun to watch as well, so I am not taking on a role as a Hill hater or anything along those lines. And I will even concede the fact that when the two have gone head-to-head, Hill has had the upper hand on Keeton. The wins and losses do not lie, and Hill has had better games against Utah State than Keeton has had against BYU. No argument there, but I will suggest BYU had a better overall team around Hill than Keeton has had around him at Utah State, and that has to count for something as well.
So is Hill really a better quarterback than Keeton? Let’s dig into some numbers for some analytical comparisons…
First, here is a look at the 2013 stat lines for each quarterback, with Hill playing in 13 games and Keeton playing in six before getting injured against BYU.
In a little less than half of the games played by Hill, Keeton recorded just one fewer touchdown pass and had a much better touchdown to interception ratio. If you projected Keeton’s stats for a full season, the Utah State quarterback would have recorded 2,776 passing yards in 12 games (not accounting for missed time in the BYU game) but would have dwarfed Hill’s other totals with 36 touchdowns and four interceptions. Keeton has a much better completion percentage than Hill, which may be in part due to higher accuracy pass plays run by Utah State, but if that is what he is asked to do, then he is performing well.
But what about the other half of the dual threat conversation, running the football? Again, here are the 2013 numbers…
Hill does have an advantage here, even if we projected Keeton out to a full season (482 rushing yards and four touchdowns. In 2012 Keeton played in 13 games and rushed for 619 yards and eight touchdowns, so the chances he would have exceeded that projection are not terrible. And that was behind a 1,000-yard running back in Kerwynn Williams.
One thing I like to look at when breaking down quarterbacks is what they do inside the red zone. This, to me, is where Keeton really starts to pull away from Hill in my book. Last season Keeton threw 18 touchdown passes inside the opponents’ 40-yard line, 14 of which coming inside the red zone. That was accompanied by zero interceptions inside the 40-yard line. Hill had 16 touchdowns inside the opponents’ 40-yard line, with 11 coming inside the red zone, but he was picked off five times when BYU was thinking about a score.
I also need my quarterback to be counted on to pick up a first down when faced with a third down situation. Again, Keeton has the edge on Hill. Hill completed 40.5 percent of his third down pass attempts last season (32.4 percent on 3rd and 7-9). Keeton completed 73.6 percent of his attempts on third down (including 75 percent on 3rd and 7-9). In fairness, and for a larger sample size, Keeton completed 65.7 percent of his third down pass attempts in 2012 (72.0 percent on 3rd and 7-9).
Want to compare passer ratings for Hill and Keeton in close games (anywhere from winning by seven to trailing by seven points)? If so, you will find Keeton comes out on top once again.
One fatal flaw in the argument for Keeton is his lack of a signature win. He is 0-3 against BYU and 1-1 against Utah, and in games against Auburn and USC he has come up on the losing end as well. Opportunities for signature wins are few and far between for Utah State, which makes the season opener at Tennessee such an intriguing one. Will this be the year Keeton and the Aggies get that signature win? Hill, on the other hand, exploded against Texas last season for over 250 rushing yards in a blowout win over the Longhorns, the closest you will come to a signature win. Of course, Texas was a hot mess when they traveled to Provo, but credit to Hill and BYU for opening up the wounds in that Longhorn defense and pouring salt on it with such authority.
I’m still leaning toward Keeton though. Imagine Keeton and Hill were swapped between BYU and Utah State. Which quarterback would be more likely to thrive at BYU? At Utah State? I think Keeton would be the more likely option to play well on both teams, which is why I would pick him over Hill if I had to choose between the two.
Fortunately, I do not have to choose between either, and I can enjoy both equally as much this fall.
Check out the various previews from CFB Matrix!