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Without Keeton, Utah State could be an emotional mess

Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton might not have been the best player in college football, but it’s tough to name someone who meant more to his team than the junior quarterback.

Keeton tore ligaments in his left knee in last week’s 31-14 loss to Brigham Young and will miss the remainder of the season. He was in the midst of a remarkable year, with 18 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. He had completed 69.4 percent of his passes for 1,388 yards and also rushed for 241 yards and two scores.

The backbone of the Aggies program for the past three years, Keeton led the team to back-to-back bowl appearances, including an 11-2 record straight up and against the spread last season.

With its leader unable to play, Utah State could be an emotional mess going into today’s home game against Boise State.

Backup quarterback Craig Harrison connected on just 18 of 41 passes for 178 yards in relief of Keeton against the Cougars. The only scoring drive with Harrison came in garbage time in the last minutes of the blowout.

The Broncos have had two weeks to prepare after an open date that was preceded by a 60-7 clubbing of Southern Mississippi as a 29-point home favorite.

Boise State has been known to steadily improve throughout the course of a season during coach Chris Petersen’s tenure. With that in mind, the Broncos, 20-8 ATS as road favorites since 2008, appear poised to produce their best performance of the year.

Since 1998, Boise State has won 10 in a row over Utah State, compiling a 7-1-2 spread record. I made the Broncos 11½-point favorites and will lay 6.

Four more plays for today (home team in CAPS):

■ Florida (+7) over LOUISIANA STATE — The Gators covered the number in all three of their games as road underdogs last season, and they are 5-1 ATS in their past six trips to Tiger Stadium.

Florida coach Will Muschamp’s defense looks like the best in America. It’s a unit allowing just 217 yards and 12.2 points per game. The Gators have not allowed a Southeastern Conference opponent to score more than 20 points in 12 consecutive games. Tyler Murphy has exceeded all expectations since taking over at quarterback for the injured Jeff Driskel. Murphy is third in the SEC in passing efficiency.

■ Northwestern (+10½) over WISCONSIN — Since 2004, Northwestern owns a 12-4 spread record as a road underdog. The Wildcats are 6-2 ATS as double-digit ’dogs dating to the 2008 Alamo Bowl. Since the 2012 season opener, Northwestern has won 14 of its 18 games. In all four defeats, the Wildcats held the lead in the fourth quarter. In other words, it has been a long time since any opponent has run away from coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team, which played well enough to win last week against Ohio State.

■ Oregon State (+1) over WASHINGTON STATE — The wrong team is favored. Beavers coach Mike Riley had two weeks to prep for the Cougars, who are playing for the seventh time in as many weeks. Oregon State already has won a pair of road games this season while dealing with a rash of injuries along the offensive line. Three of those linemen will return today along with running back Storm Woods.

The Beavers’ Sean Mannion leads the nation in passing yards and has an incredible 21-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Look for Mannion and Brandin Cooks, who leads the country in receiving yards, to lead Oregon State to the win.

■ MISSISSIPPI STATE (-10) over Bowling Green — The Bulldogs played LSU evenly for three quarters last week, and they should have won at Auburn. Bowling Green has won five games against weak opposition. In their only game against a decent foe, the Falcons got drilled 42-10 at Indiana. I made Mississippi State a 14½-point favorite.

Last week: 2-3 against the spread

Season: 14-15-2

Brian Edwards of Sportsmemo.com and BrianEdwardsSports.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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