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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 14: Utah

Utah needs Kyle Whittingham to step forward with a plan to address the program’s newest test. In the big picture, Utah wants to be as successful in the Pac-12 as it was in the Mountain West, where it won 33 games from 2008-10. While most programs would be happy with an eight-win debut against a tougher class of opponent, Utah is long past the days when eight wins is anything more than simply satisfactory – the program has bigger eyes for a bigger prize. More specifically, Whittingham, Utah and new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, the former quarterback, need to carve out an identity on offense to go with a rock-steady defense. It’s an important task on multiple fronts: Utah needs an offense to take a step forward in the win column; needs an offense to keep pace with the Pac-12’s recent move towards offensive potency, as seen by several recent hires; and needs an offense to give balance to a team that won’t win more than eight games on the back of its defense alone. U.S.C. is waiting in the wings, and Utah’s hopes at knocking off another giant hinges on the development of this offense.

Conference
Pac-12, South

Location
Salt Lake City, Utah

Nickname
Utes

Returning starters
15 (8 offense, 7 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 27

2011 record
(8-5, 4-5)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 37

2012 schedule

  • Aug. 30
    N. Colorado
  • Sept. 7
    at Utah St.
  • Sept. 15
    B.Y.U.
  • Sept. 22
    at Arizona St.
  • Oct. 4
    U.S.C.
  • Oct. 13
    at U.C.L.A.
  • Oct. 20
    at Oregon St.
  • Oct. 27
    California
  • Nov. 3
    Washington St.
  • Nov. 10
    at Washington
  • Nov. 17
    Arizona
  • Nov. 23
    at Colorado

Last year’s prediction

So I think the Utes have a Virginia Tech-like debut in the Pac-12, hitting the ground running in their first season – against the odds and ahead of expectations, it’s safe to say. But this isn’t a great team, not one that lines up with a few of the program’s recent powers. The offense will have some growing pains, and the defense has a few issues to address before we get fully on board. Utah has the good fortune of playing in a wide-open South division, which will help. I think we’ll see the Utes float around a national ranking all season, and should win eight or nine games in the regular season.

2011 recap

In a nutshell Was it the season Utah may have envisioned? Probably not; this is a program accustomed to running roughshod over conference opposition, so that the Utes finished a game under .500 in Pac-12 play was certainly a change, to put it lightly. Yet there was much to like about this team, beginning with the fact that the Utes were able to cobble together eight wins despite two significant disadvantages: the increased level of competition and the program’s worst offense in a decade. The Utes finished last in the Pac-12 in passing and scoring offense, and needed every ounce of energy from its defense, which was ready for the conference change, to win at least eight games for sixth consecutive season. Was the program as a whole ready for the move to the Pac-12? There’s little doubt that Utah was ready, and is ready, once the offense catches up, to battle U.S.C. for South division supremacy.

High point A 54-10 win over B.Y.U., in my estimation. However, a comment from a post during the offseason suggested that a Sun Bowl win over Georgia Tech was the high point of the season.

Low point An ugly start, what with the painful loss to U.S.C. and three ugly setbacks to Washington, Arizona State and California. On the other hand, nothing nears a 17-14 loss at home to Colorado to end the regular season. It was the Buffaloes’ first road win as a member of the Pac-12, not to mention the program’s first true road win since beating Texas Tech in 2007.

Tidbit Utah loved playing on The Mtn. Network, going 24-7 in games broadcast on the station, which is unfortunate; The Mtn. closed up shop earlier this summer. Utah was also solid when aired on the Versus Network, going 9-3, but Versus has morphed into the NBC Sports Network, so it’s hard to know if the trend continues in a new zip code. Historically, the Utes are at their best when playing on ABC: Utah is 11-2-1 in games played on the network, with the losses coming against San Diego State in 1991 and Air Force in 2000.

Tidbit (bowl games edition) Utah’s bowl winning percentage is the best in the F.B.S. among teams that have played in 10 or more bowl games. The Utes are 13-4 in the postseason, taking bowl games at a 76.5 percent clip, which is far ahead of the next-best team, U.S.C. (65.6 percent). The only team with a bowl winning percentage over 70.0 percent, the Utes are one of six teams with a winning percentage over 60.0 percent – U.S.C., Mississippi, Oklahoma State, Auburn, Florida State and Oklahoma.

Former players in the N.F.L.

31 DE James Aiono (Indianapolis), FB Matt Asiata (Minnesota), OG Zane Beadles (Denver), OT Tony Bergstrom (Oakland), CB Conroy Black (Oakland), CB Brandon Burton (Minnesota), DE Christian Cox (New England), DE Jonathan Fanene (New England), OT Jordan Gross (Carolina), WR Brian Hernandez (Philadelphia), S Robert Johnson (Tennessee), DT Maake Kemoeatu (Baltimore), LB Paul Kruger (Baltimore), CB Brice McCain (Houston), LB Koa Misi (Miami), DT Sione Puoha (New York Jets), QB Brett Ratliff (Tampa Bay), WR David Reed (Baltimore), OG Caleb Schlauderaff (New York Jets), DE Derrick Shelby (Miami), NT Sealver Siliga (Denver), CB Sean Smith (Miami), WR Steve Smith (Carolina), QB Alex Smith (San Francisco), WR Shaky Smithson (Green Bay), DT Paul Soliai (Miami), CB R.J. Stanford (Carolina), LB Stevenson Sylvester (Pittsburgh), S Justin Taplin-Ross (Dallas), C Zane Taylor (Indianapolis), S Eric Weddle (San Diego).

Arbitrary top five list

Professional athletes, last name Whit- (not “White”)
1. 2B Lou Whitaker.
2. OT Bob Whitfield.
3. CB Dave Whitsell.
4. SP Ed Whitson.
5. C Ernie Whitt.

Coaching

Kyle Whittingham (B.Y.U. ’84), 65-25 over seven seasons with the Utes. He increased Utah’s win total in each season from 2005-8, from seven wins in 2005 to nine in 2007; of course, Utah set a new school-record with 13 victories in 2008. Whittingham is the first head coach in Utah history to reach bowl play in each of his first four seasons in charge, let alone his first seven. He also won each of his first five bowl games: the 2005 Emerald Bowl (by 38-10 over Georgia Tech), the 2006 Armed Forces Bowl (25-13, Tulsa), the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl (35-32, Navy), the 2008 Sugar Bowl and a 2009 win over California. That streak came to an end two year ago, with a loss to Boise State in the 2010 Las Vegas Bowl, but the Utes got back in the win column in last year’s Sun Bowl. Whittingham’s ascension to the head job, coming after Urban Meyer left for Florida, seemed like a logical move; Whittingham had been on the Utah staff for the previous 11 years, including the final 10 as defensive coordinator. When you include his 11 seasons as an assistant, Whittingham has participated in 151 wins — the second-most of any coach in the history of the program. Utah’s success over the last four seasons has vaulted Whittingham upon the national stage, and it’s about time. Utah had reason to worry about Whittingham being swayed by offers from B.C.S. conference programs, but given Utah’s move to the Pac-12, the university can feel secure in its head coach position for the foreseeable future. Now that the Utes are on the national stage Whittingham will begin to be appreciated fully for all that he’s done.

Tidbit (coaching edition) Before moving to the offensive changes, which are key, let’s touch on Utah’s one coaching move on defense. Utah has a new cornerbacks coach: Sharrief Shah, a former safety for the Utes, moves into coaching after spending the last sixteen years as an agent and commercial litigator and trial attorney for two local law firms. Strange, right? In his defense – and in Whittingham’s defense – Shah was one heck of a defensive back for the Utes, and had stayed close to the game over the last decade-plus by working as a sideline reporter for Utah’s radio broadcasts. Still, it’s a strange hire.

Now, the offense: Norm Chow is gone, as are offensive line coach Tim Davis and running backs coach Dave Schramm – to Hawaii, Florida and Fresno State, respectively. To replace Schramm, the running backs coach, Whittingham moved Jay Hill over from his work with the cornerbacks; Hill isn’t new to the offensive side of the ball, having served as Utah’s tight ends coach from 2007-9. The Utes’ new tight ends and fullbacks coach is former Utah State running backs coach Ilaisa Tuiaki, who did absolutely splendid work for the Aggies over the last three seasons. Then there’s Brian Johnson, the 25-year-old former quarterback, quarterbacks coach, wunderkind and new offensive coordinator.

Players to watch

Johnson’s new offense won’t be a spread, per se. It’ll be a “modified spread,” to use Johnson’s terms, which means the following: spread principles incorporated into a more traditional offensive scheme, one similar to the West Coast system implemented by Chow a year ago. It’ll be different, but don’t look for the spread-system bells and whistles – and don’t look for Johnson’s offense to resemble the system he ran in 2008, which tilted slightly towards the pass. It’s strange, and hard to define, but in essence, Johnson is going to take Chow’s offense, squeeze it into a ball and surround it with a spread offense.

Look for Johnson to be as innovative as he can possible be, though his hands are tied in one sense: Utah will need to roll through the running game, as it’s on the ground that the Utes butter their bread. But Johnson will absolutely do a better job getting the ball into the hands of his skill players, especially those who can make things happen in space; one of the most troubling aspect of last year’s offense was its inability to push the tempo downfield over most of the second half. I like the hire: Johnson is fresh, young, motivated, has a spread background and knows the roster and the personnel as well as anyone. He’s young, but I think that Johnson will do a good job.

First, he and Whittingham need to settle on a quarterback. It’ll eventually be junio Jordan Wynn, once the dust clears, but true freshman Travis Wilson has made things interesting since bursting on the scene with a wonderful spring camp. Experience counts, however, and that’s something Wynn has over both Wilson and senior Jon Hays, the former Nebraska-Omaha transfer who started the final nine games of last season. Hays moved into the lineup due to Wynn’s continued shoulder woes; after fighting back from right shoulder surgery last offseason, Wynn injured his left shoulder against Washington in early October.

So you wonder about the senior’s ability to stay healthy. I don’t worry about the production: Wynn has produced for this offense since moving into a starting role late in his freshman year, finding open receivers, moving the chains and avoiding turnovers nearly throughout. For 2012, if he’s healthy, Wynn is Utah’s best starting option – and I expect Whittingham and Johnson to recognize this fact before the end of fall camp. Hays is fine as a backup, especially in short doses, but look for Wilson, should he continue impressing the staff, to be Utah’s primary backup this fall and the starter in 2013.

Once Wynn went down, senior John White took over. The former JUCO transfer played very well in September, running for 150 yards in his debut and absolutely torching B.Y.U. two weeks later, but his season didn’t take off until mid-October; over the year’s final nine games – and he missed most of the Colorado loss due to injury – White ran the ball 240 times for 1,105 yards and 11 touchdowns. In the process, he went from a running back largely unknown outside of Utah to a Heisman candidate heading into his final season.

White’s going to get his carries, his yards and his touchdowns, not to mention more national exposure. He’ll continue to be the centerpiece of this offense, especially if Wilson nabs the starting job. But White will need more help – no other back had more than 31 carries – than he did last fall, especially if the Utes want to provide two or three different looks in the running game. With White entrenched as the starter, Utah could team him with a bigger back, JUCO transfer Kelvin York, to give this running game a great one-two pairing. While this duo will do most of the work, keep an eye out for sophomore Lucky Radley and redshirt freshman Jarrell Oliver. Most of all, watch White: he’s going to have a huge year.

A healthy Wynn will mean more touches for a talented crop of wide receivers. The Utes go five deep: seniors DeVonte Christopher (42 catches for 663 yards), Reggie Dunn (15 for 2011) and Luke Matthews (17 for 263) and sophomore Dres Anderson (23 for 355) and Kenneth Scott (8 for 141). I really like what this group can achieve in the right system, with Christopher the top target, Dunn and Matthews steady and experienced – Matthews has the size to line up at receiver and H-back, which helps – Anderson the next-level target and Scott, in a small sample size, proving himself to be a deep threat. You may wonder if Wynn can stay healthy and get these receivers the ball, but you don’t wonder if this quintet can make plays when given the opportunity.

The only question, in fact, might ask how Utah plans on setting up its starting lineup. Christopher’s a starter, even if the staff loves Scott’s blend of size and speed. Anderson’s the future, but he’s also ready to explode today; he’ll start. It’s really down to Matthews and Dunn and one spot, and that pair has been around the block long enough to split time down the middle – and remember that Matthews can do a number of things in the passing game. Utah also has a few interchangeable pieces at tight end and H-back, so look for Dallin Rogers (22 for 160) to shift between both spots once senior Kendrick Moeai’s shoulder gets back into game form.

Some things change – conference affiliation, for example. And some things don’t change – Utah’s defense, for example. The Utes might have struggled at times in the Pac-12, but the defense delivered: Utah led its new league in interceptions, red zone defense and scoring defense, limiting five conference opponents to 23 points or less and holding five opponents overall to 354 or fewer yards of total offense. Overall, the Utes allowed less than 270 points – 263 points, to be exact – for the sixth straight year, showing no signs of decline despite the far more imposing schedule. One year later, with the Utes’ feet firmly on the ground, it’s safe to expect an even stronger performance.

All Utah really needs to do is find two new starting linebackers – and it’s not easy as it sounds. For now, the Utes can take great comfort in knowing that junior Trevor Reilly (47 tackles, 5.0 sacks) returns on the strong side, where he started the final six games of last season; Reilly’s a big piece on this defense, someone who has big-play ability and the flexibility to put his hand on the ground on passing downs. He’ll be counted on to produce at an even higher level without Chaz Walker in the middle and Matt Martinez at rover, two linebackers who combined for more than 200 tackles in each of the last two years. Unfortunately – and this is really the only question mark on this defense – the Utes are lacking in experience.

There’s a youth movement underway. It’s going to be sophomore V.J. Fehoko in the middle, replacing Walker. Fehoko had a great opening month, highlighted by his fumble return against B.Y.U., but didn’t truly crack into the rotation until November, when he saw more and more snaps in a secondary role. While redshirt freshman Jared Norris is an option, I’d be shocked if Fehoko didn’t start the season opener and, potentially, for the next three years. In terms of pure speed, Utah’s best option at rover is sophomore Jacoby Hale, who is currently tied atop the depth chart with redshirt freshman L.T. Filiaga. Even if Hale starts, you could see the Utes team him with a bigger linebacker, especially if Whittingham and defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake go smaller up front. Sitake will continue handling the linebackers, as he’s done in the past, and he’ll get the most out of this group. But the lack of experience is a slight concern.

After sharing time last fall, seniors Ryan Lacy (51 tackles, 2 interceptions) and Mo Lee (29 tackles, 3 interceptions) will serve as the Utes’ two starting cornerbacks – the defense lost Conroy Black, who started every game on the right side. Both are up for the challenge: Lacy did a nice job last fall, showing a nose for the football and earning honorable mention all-conference honors, while Lee, a former receiver, has top-notch size and athleticism. It’s also logical to expect Lee to play with a higher comfort level as a senior; the former JUCO transfer will be in his second year on defense, after all, so the light is close to turning on. One thing Lacy’s move to full-time starting status does is open up the nickel back spot, but Utah is very confident in junior Mike Honeycutt’s ability to move from his role on special teams to help fill the void.

Where Utah’s secondary really takes off is at safety, thanks to a starting pairing that trumps any other duo in the Pac-12. Junior Brian Blechen (78 tackles, 3 interceptions), an all-conference pick both in the Mountain West as a freshman and in the Pac-12 last fall, will remain solely at strong safety after opening last season at linebacker. While you love Blechen’s ability to play along the back end and on the second level, he’s best suited at safety; Blechen is an all-conference lock. He’s joined at free safety by sophomore Eric Rowe (69 tackles), a reigning freshman all-American. Blechen is steadiness personified; Rowe brings a different level of flash. It’s an outstanding duo – and why, along with Lee and Lacy, the Utes have the best starting quartet in the Pac-12.

This defense would have been good without tackle Star Lotulelei (44 tackles, 9.0 for loss) in the middle – good, solid, strong. With Lotulelei back in the fold, having opted to remain on campus for his senior season, this defense becomes great. He’s the real deal: Lotulelei eats up linemen for lunch and dinner, demands double-teams, collapses the pocket, clogs up the running game, does the dirty work, racks up national accolades and tears up game plans, giving Utah the sort of effort and production that trickles down through each level of this defense. Simply put, there is not an offensive lineman in college football who can handle Lotulelei one-on-one – as many teams have discovered very early in the first quarter over the last two seasons. He changes the way an opponent approaches this defense. That’s high praise; it’s all deserved.

And Lotulelei makes his teammates up front better, as you might expect – though his fellow linemen are pretty good in their own right. He’s joined in the starting lineup by senior Dave Kruger (22 tackles), a four-year starter who has bulked up to around 300 pounds, giving Utah an extremely imposing pairing in the middle. As always, the Utes will go five or six deep in their interior rotation; this helps keep Lotulelei fresh, for one, but the constant recycling also places stress on opposing offensive linemen, who must deal with fresh legs every time Whittingham and Sitake rotate in another batch of tackles. For depth, the Utes will call on JUCO transfer Tenny Palepoi, along with three of four returning contributors — but not Junior Salt, another JUCO transfer who will redshirt after suffering an injury earlier this month.

There’s another Kruger at end: Joe, a junior, moves over to the right side after splitting time on the left last fall. Kruger (35 tackles, 5.0 for loss) moved up to 280 pounds to handle the workload on the right side, which should help him become a more complete player – with his height and length serving as assets on passing downs and his size helping him at the point of attack. At left end, the Utes will start Nate Fakahafua, a 250-pound sophomore whose burst off the edge could give the front four another game-changer. JUCO transfer Niasi Leota and true freshman Hunter Dimick – both enrolled early – have looked good thus far, giving Utah a pair of trustworthy but unproven reserves. The front four is fantastic.

Getting a healthy season out of redshirt freshman Charles Henderson, who played in the first four games of last season before suffering a knee injury, will give Utah’s return game a huge boost. If at 100 percent, Henderson will handle punts while Christopher and Dunn team up on kick returns. The specialists return intact: senior kicker Coleman Petersen, senior punter Sean Smallwood, junior Nick Marsh on kickoffs and senior Patrick Greene the long snapper. Utah is a more explosive return game away from having one of the two or three best groups in the Pac-12.

Position battle(s) to watch

Offensive line The line isn’t a huge concern – not inside, at least. Two of Utah’s three returning starters can be found along the interior, in senior center Tevita Stevens and senior right guard Sam Brenner, with both fitting snugly inside the Pac-12’s four best at their respective positions. At left guard, the Utes will get a healthy Latu Heimuli, who has battled injuries, and are very happy with the play of junior Jeremiah Tofaeono, who would be the starter if the season started today. But the offensive line is the weakest personnel group on this offense for a reason: Utah is still looking for answers at tackle.

In my opinion, the best option at right tackle is senior Miles Mason, who moved outside after starting 12 games last fall at left guard. Mason’s the most experienced tackle on the roster – by a fairly substantial margin; in addition, it makes no sense for Utah to move Mason to the right side if not to hand him a major role. If not the starter, Mason will be a very valuable swing lineman, someone who can provide support on the right side and at both guard spots. For now, the Utes have redshirt freshman Daniel Nielson at right tackle and junior Percy Taumoelau on the blind side.

That might not change, but don’t be surprised if it does. For one, Mason could certainly move ahead of Nielson at right tackle – or even move back to left guard, should Heimuli suffer another injury or Tofaeono struggle. Secondly, the Utes added a pair of JUCO transfers, Carlos Lozano and Marc Pouvave, and both will be given a shot outside once they grasp the offense. The line will be fine, even if the Utes have questions still unanswered at tackle. And like the rest of this offense, it won’t be difficult for the line to slide back into a spread system.

Game(s) to watch

There’s B.Y.U. to deal with, this time in Salt Lake City, where the Utes have won four of the last five in this series. Another in-state battle with Utah State is the appetizer to that affair; while the Aggies are on the up-and-up, that’s a game the Utes shouldn’t lose. To say that this is an easy conference slate would be an understatement: Utah gets U.S.C. at home, which is huge; has Arizona State and Colorado, the two weakest teams in the South, among its Pac-12 road games; and misses Oregon and Stanford out of the North. It simply doesn’t get any better than that. The Utes can know that a win over U.S.C. doesn’t just move them into the title picture but also puts them in the driver’s seat for the South – the Utes will hold the tiebreaker and a far easier conference slate. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell Having an easier schedule helps, but Utah’s good enough to make things difficult for U.S.C. based on its own coaching and talent. Much of Utah’s talent can be found on defense, where Whittingham and Sitake hope to buttress a few question marks at linebacker with the conference’s best secondary and another deep and ferocious front four – the latter group paced by the one of the nation’s top defenders. After leading the Pac-12 in scoring defense last fall, I see no reason why Utah can’t take it another step forward; the Utes could be the league’s best on this side of the ball, and even in a worst-case scenario can’t be considered any worse than third, behind Oregon and the Trojans. Simply put, this defense looks like Whittingham’s strongest since 2008.

Could this offense follow suit? Probably not – but nor will the offense sputter like it did once Wynn dropped out of the lineup last fall. I think it’s going to take Johnson some time to learn his new role, perhaps as long as a month or two, if not an entire season. But I like his general idea: Johnson wants to keep some pro-style flavor while adding a generous dash of the spread, with the goal of getting the ball to those skill players who can hurt defenses in space – he’ll feed White, but also look towards Christopher, Anderson and this receiver corps. The offense isn’t tremendous, but it’ll be improved, and it’ll be good enough to make a run in the Pac-12.

I don’t think that Utah can win the South; U.S.C. is too good, too athletic, too poised and too confident to be derailed from its path to the conference title game. I do think that the Utes will win 10 games during the regular season, however, keeping right on the Trojans’ heels for the entirety of the year’s three months. Part of this has to do with the schedule: U.S.C. is only elite team Utah will face all season, B.Y.U. the only other team that will end with a national ranking and California a third team that could fight for nine wins, but it doesn’t get much easier for a Pac-12 team. To me, the Utes lose at home to U.S.C. and drop one other conference game, perhaps to California or to one of the five road opponents – U.C.L.A. or Washington, most likely. This is a talented, well-coached, defensively-oriented squad that will fight its way to a double-digit win season. Utah is a better team than most people realize.

Dream season The Utes don’t lose a game, drawing recollections of 2008 along the way. Utah’s win over U.S.C. reverberates nationally; Utah’s 40-point win over B.Y.U. looks familiar. The Utes head into a date with Oregon in early December at 12-0.

Nightmare season The Utes lose to the Cougars, U.S.C., California and Washington. That’s not all: Utah also drops road games to Arizona State and U.C.L.A., sending it to a 6-6 regular season.

In case you were wondering

Where do Utah fans congregate? Utah fans can find solid message board chatter at UteFans.net, UteZone.com and Inside the Utes. For additional coverage, visit Block U and Lya Wodraska’s blog for The Salt Lake Tribune.

Utah’s all-name nominee WR Tanqueray Towns.

Word Count

Through 111 teams 454,929.

Up Next

Who is No. 13? Tomorrow’s program’s last non-conference loss came in a stadium that was originally named after the brother of an individual whose professional career began with an organization that was once affiliated with a franchise whose players include an individual who led the league in plate appearances once, stolen bases four times, strikeouts once, walks once and runs once.

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Comments

  1. Cole says:

    Boise State is next.

    Boise last lost out of conference in 2008 to TCU in the Poinsetta Bowl, which takes place in what was formally Jack Murphy stadium. Jack Murphy’s brother was New York Mets announcer Bob Murphy.

    I”m assuming the mets have people who fit those criteria >>

  2. Steve says:

    Coming Up Next: Boise State

    - The Broncos’ last non-conference loss: 2008 Poinsettia Bowl vs. TCU (who was in the Mountain West, while Boise St. was in the WAC)

    - This game was played in San Diego at the former Jack Murphy Stadium.

    - Jack Murphy is the brother of Bob Murphy.

    - Bob Murphy, legendary announcer for the Mets, got his start working for the Muskogee Reds.

    - The Muskogee Reds were a minor league team that, at one point, was affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds.

    - Among the players who have played for the Cincinnati Reds is Bob Bescher, who …

    + Led the league in plate appearances in 1911
    + Led the league in stolen bases every season from 1909-1912
    + Led the league in strikeouts in 1911
    + Led the league in walks in 1913
    + Led the league in runs in 1912.

  3. Bill Condon says:

    Hmmm. Utah was 4-5 in the Pac 12, and one of those wins was an overtime affair against Washington State? I’m not as impressed, Paul, as you are. But that’s why they get to play the games, eh?

  4. Kyle says:

    Great write up, as they’ve all been. Two things: (1) Jordan Wynn is a junior, he was given a medical redshirt; (2) Junior Salt is out, I believe for the season, with a broken foot.

    Paul: Thank you for both. Have to plead ignorance on both counts, which doesn’t reflect well on the work. Thanks again for pointing that out, and thanks to those below with the links and added info, etc.

  5. Jim says:

    Utah also returns 18 starters, second most in the Pac-12

  6. Cosmo says:

    Kyle, I don’t think you can even apply for a med redshirt until the end of your senior year.

    Paul, which Utah fbs school has the best qb?

  7. Kyle says:

    Also, monkey-stomping BYU beats out the bowl victory over Georgia Tech for my favorite Utah win last season. But it’s a close call between the two, particularly given the dramatic fashion of the bowl win, and the fact that the rest of the PAC-12 largely failed to handle business in their bowl games.

  8. Michael says:

    I think this site has great great stuff but I dont get the love for Utah. They were 4-5 against a pathetically weak schedule that didnt have Stanford or Oregon. Plus they are in the South which is much weaker than the Pac-12 North.

    They seem to be a mediocre team on average that is capable of beating top 25 teams but also losing to bad teams.

  9. Kyle says:

    @Cosmo: I could very well be wrong, but my understanding is that Wynn was granted a year and is a junior insofar as eligibility is concerned.

  10. Kyle says:

    @Cosmo: See first paragraph in the link below. I suppose they could’ve posted it prematurely before it was official. But if that’s true and it isn’t official, someone made a serious error.

    http://utahutes.cstv.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/wynn_jordan00.html

    Moreover, even if your statement re the rule is correct, once his “junior” year was over after last season ended, wouldn’t he have been a “senior” for purposes of eligibility, thus making the application proper at that time?

  11. David says:

    In support of Kyle’s understanding: it has also been announced that Army’s Jarrett Mackey has already been granted a hardship waiver; he suffered a season-ending injury in the opener last year

  12. Matt Rob says:

    Hmm. 13 teams to go.

    USC
    Alabama
    LSU
    Oklahoma
    Oregon
    Georgia
    South Carolina
    WVU
    Michigan State
    Wisconsin
    Florida State
    Texas
    Boise

  13. Ki Yi says:

    Also,

    Fakahafua is a Sophomore, not a Junior.

  14. BobJ says:

    Any team that wants to be called good should do this with Utah’s schedule:

    WWWWLWWWWWWW

    That’s probably why Paul ranked them so high. Utah isn’t that good, but they don’t have to be this year. Winning less than ten games would be embarrassing.

  15. Umanami says:

    Wynn was in fact granted a medical red-shirt. He is officially a red-shirt junior this year.

  16. KenB says:

    Thank you for a good read.

    Couple other nitpicky tidbits: 1) KW is offically listed at 66 wins. He as considered a head coach when the 2004 team beat Pitt in the Fiesta bowl. 2) On the OL, LT Marc Pouvave is out for the season with an injury from a month or so ago, Left Tackle still looks like it could get interesting.

    @ BobJ I don’t think losing at Washington would be an “embarassment,” and Cal and BYU are for real as well. But yes, this is about as easy of a schedule as Utah will see in the Pac-12, time to try to make a run.

  17. bayzing says:

    Bobj & Michael,

    So here’s the deal. This is the one of the few places you’ll find anywhere that tends to emphasize and perhaps exaggerate Utah’s strength and potential. Why all the fuss? Notre Dame, USC, half of the BIG 12, most of the Big 10, are usually overrated every single year and ranked too high in the national polls. Whereas Utah consistently (including this year) starts the season as NR and slowly works their way up. I think it’s refreshing the Paul avoids the typical biases of the national media and gives teams like Utah, BYU, and Boise a “best case scenario” treatment in the preseason.

    Meanwhile… as mentioned in the writeup… Utah is loaded this year. They easily have a top 10 defense (including the best secondary in the PAC-12, and the nations best defensive lineman), and they also boast the PAC-12′s leading rusher, an experienced receiving core, and have a better quarterback situation then in 2011.

    I say the 3rd place team in the PAC-12 is probably a legitimate top-15 team most years.

    You’ve also got to remember… Utah faced some unprecedented challenges last year during their inaugural PAC-12 season. When your starting quarterback goes down with a season ending injury in game 4… doesn’t that change the calculus? Aside from the ridiculous loss to Colorado, Utah had a very respectable year in 2011, and it culminated in another strong bowl game victory.

    Remember… Utah has two undefeated seasons and 2 BCS bowl victories in the past 8 years (both years they were drastically underrated in the preseason)… this looks to be a season where they’re similarly loaded. Why all the fuss?

  18. Wizardhawk says:

    There are at least 5 conference games I can see Utah losing this season and wouldn’t be shocked to see 6. BYU is a rivalry game and can go either way.

    They will need to go into ASU in their first conference game and had better impress if they expect to have the confidence to upset a USC team that will have that game circled and will come to play. They have a fairly easy road schedule after that outside of having to go to UW late in the year.

    If you took out the WSU/OSU games and put in Oregon and Stanford instead I wouldn’t see them making a bowl. They may have the easiest schedule in the Pac, but given their 4-5 record last year I simply can’t see them making the kind of leap they need to reach 8 wins in regular season this year, despite the easy schedule.

  19. Jake says:

    I frankly think you ranked them too low. They are a top 10 team if Wynn is healthy. They are better than a Georgia or South Carolina, which both have the same type of scheduling advantages. And don’t get me started on Texas. They shouldn’t be sniffing the top 25, let alone where they will get ranked.

  20. Arthur2478 says:

    You cannot even apply for a Medical Redshirt until you’ve exhausted all your eligibility.

  21. jjncaa says:

    I think it’s worth to mention that Brian Blechen (former high school QB!) suspended for the first 3 games

  22. bayzing says:

    Wizard

    “I can’t seem them making the kind of leap they need to win 8 games in the regular season.”

    What LEAP are you talking about? Utah won 7 games last year in the regular season on a semi-rebuilding year with an injured quarterback. They return 18 starters this year, have a healthy quarterback, and arguably the leagues best or 2nd best defense. Who is going to beat Utah this year outside of USC? Arizona State under a new coaching regime? Doubt it. Arizona with Rich Rod’s crew visiting Salt Lake City? That’s a stretch.

    You can make a legitimate argument that Utah is ranked too high at 14… but it’s a bit ridiculous to suggest that Utah won’t be bowling this year… that hasn’t happened in a decade and this team is loaded. BTW… don’t hold your breath for BYU coming into Rice Eccles and pulling off the upset… that’s only happened once in the last 10 years and it was the biggest miracle-of-a-last-second-play you can possibly imagine.

  23. Wizardhawk says:

    Bayzing,

    For the record I didn’t say they wouldn’t go bowling this year, I said if they had to play oregon/stanford instead of wa st/or st I could see them not making a bowl.

    You can say what you want about the past: They did this and that before joining the Pac, but that was on an even softer schedule than they have this year in the Pac, and they probably have the easiest Pac schedule in the conference.

    You can talk about injury and changes, but all we know is they had a sub .500 record on a soft schedule in conference play. I watched a few games including the UW game where they just flat out beat up on that defense. Notice I didn’t say how poor the offense was with the QB going out… it was that mighty D that got dominated. Utah will not be seen as an elite Pac team until they actually run the table or at least finish above .500 in it.

    Let me point out as well that Utah may be a better team this year than they were last year, but last year was not a great year in the conference and many teams look to take a leap forward this year as well. The only Pac game I wouldn’t worry about too much if I was you is colorado and maybe oregon state. You may think you are so far ahead that beating the others is a gimmie, but then I guess the beatings you took last year weren’t a proper introduction to the parity and upsets that happen within the conference.

    Utah’s defense gave up 30+ to 3 Pac12 teams and only beat WSU in overtime. The only two teams they dominated were two of the worst teams in the conference, and maybe one of the worst UCLA teams ever.

    Look, I’m not saying Utah sucks, but I don’t see this dominate top 15 team either. They need to prove it on the field before any of us in the conference buys into it and frankly I don’t expect to see it this year. Win the south and win a conference championship and your respect will be earned.

  24. Greg says:

    @wizardhowk
    So Arizona has not yet earned respect in the PAC despite having been in the conference for over 30 years.

  25. UtahAlumn says:

    @Wizardhawk –

    “…I don’t see this dominate top 15 team either. They need to prove it on the field before any of us in the conference buys into it and frankly I don’t expect to see it this year. Win the south and win a conference championship and your respect will be earned.”

    Uhhh – do you realize this prediction isn’t about what Utah has or hasn’t done in the past, but what the author predicts will happen in the future (i.e. this season)? What Utah accomplished or failed to accomplish last season is not at all what this prediction is about. Your entire premise is a complete failure of logic.

    Also, if the only way your respect can be earned by Utah is to be better than what is likely the best team in the entire country, USC, and better than Oregon, likely a top 10 team this year, I guess it is unlikely Utah will be earning your respect this season.

    Then again, when the bar you arbitrarily set for Utah to win your respect this season is to beat out USC for the south and beat Oregon for the PAC-12 title, essentially to play in the BCS title game, it appears Utah will have to wait until 2013 for another shot to impress you. I’m guessing you’ll have equally impossible criteria then, too.

    Thankfully, us Utes aren’t particularly concerned about what does or does not impress you. We are excited as hell for another awesome year of Utah football. If we fall short of winning the BCS title and therefore meeting your arbitrary criteria for respect, I won’t lose any sleep. If we did win the PAC-12 this season, I’d probably be just as shocked as you.

    I expect 9-3 and am hoping for 10-2. Anything above 10-2 would be straight bananas.

  26. bayzing says:

    Wizard…

    I generally concur with UTAHALUM’s comments. I don’t necessarily expect Utah to dominate this year… most Utah fans don’t expect anywhere close to a perfect season… but at the same time, we’re excited… probably more so than we’ve been in the last three years. As written earlier… PRESNAPREAD usually gives Utah the benefit of the doubt in the preseason… one of the few publications/blogs to do so. I think expecting the Utes to finish the season ranked 10-15 is reasonably realistic this year considering all the factors (including the inevitable bowl game victory at the end of the season)

    Also… I’m not exactly sure how CLOSE you were watching the Utah – Washington game last year. I was at that game… I saw Washington get owned in the first half… they went into the locker room absolutely lucky to have a 10-7 lead despite being hugely outplayed in the first half (Utah led in virtually every statistical category). In the third quarter the Utah offense absolutely imploded… Quarterback Jordan Wynn went down with a season ending injury, and we fumbled the ball twice… deep in our own territory. Washington converts those mishaps into quick touchdowns… and the rout is on. Yes… Washington beat us pretty good – I give them credit… and that loss really set back our season… but it wasn’t as if the Utes were dominated from the opening kickoff… that game was close until deep in the third quarter, then got out of hand fast with some terrible turnovers. Don’t expect the Utes to be coughing up the ball 5 times against the Huskies this year!

  27. wizardhawk says:

    UtahAlumn

    Uhhh you do realize the quote you replied to was directed at bayzing, NOT PAUL M.

    Seriously, reading helps before you type.

    Bayzing, seriously you say a team was owned when they had a lead going in at half time? And UW wasn’t the only Utah game I saw. I also watched some of the USC game, the ASU game, and the Cal game. I didn’t see a team on the verge of dominating the weak Pac12 South.

    I understand optimism. Every fan has it and probably most have an overinflated view of their teams chances. Paul has overrated non bcs conference schools before and he too is entitled to his opinion. Much of the predictions for Utah’s overall expected record is based on the soft schedule, but in MY OPINION I do not see them as a 10 win team. I’m not impressed by BSU, TCU, or Utah beating up on crappy conferences in the past and it is no basis for how they will do in a real conference. All we do know is Utah didn’t impress in their first season in the Pac. That doesn’t mean they will not ever win the conference, but it means many fans from the Pac will not give that level of respect until we see it on this level. It isn’t a slam, nor an elitist view, just an opinion.

    I could see UW going 6-6 or 8-4. I could see Utah also only winning 6 or 7. Those aren’t predictions as anyone who can do it with accuracy should be betting in vegas.

    Good luck on your season, may the Utes not have any serious injuries.

  28. AC Slater says:

    Wooa there….

    Yes, UW was lucky to have a 10-7 lead at half.

    BUT, you neglect the fact that UW scored right on its first drive to take a 17-7 lead before Utah then threw a deep int. Then UW drove for another TD.

    Yes, the turnovers contributed to Utah’s loss but its not like they weren’t outplayed handily.

  29. wizardhawk says:

    Utah State?

    Yeah, that’s what I thought.

    If you can’t dispatch a WAC team, what makes you think you are ready to take out the Pac12 south? Oh wait, we are going to hear yet again about losing a QB as a reason right? Not having your QB caused that blocked punt right? Not having your QB that lead to a 13-0 first half wasn’t it? (Wynn didn’t go out until just before halftime). I watched that game and didn’t see a team ready to compete against ASU or USC, more or less taking on the conference title game. Oregon would curb stomp you right now.

    Do I think Utah is a bad team? No. Colorado is a bad team. WSU and OSU have been bad teams. Utah is a good team, but then so are most of the Pac12 teams. It is a different thing to beat a Pac12 team playing them from another conference. It seems your fans will learn the hard way that conference upsets are the rule and Utah will lose games they do not expect to.

    Good luck on your season and may you not find anymore serious injuries to your players. See you in Seattle.

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