This week we take a quick look at the other new comers to the Pac12, the Utah Utes. Last year, in their first year in the conference, Kyle Whittingham’s boys played well, giving teams fits and making it a fight for the Pac12 South title.
The Utes started last year on and off. inconsistent performance both home and away, gave them an uphill battle in order to contest for the Pac12 South division title. Then they hit a 4 game win streak with two games at home and two on the road. The Utes were one game away from clinching the Pac12 South when they ran into the, more than struggling, fellow Pac12 new comers, Colorado. The Utes seemed to look past the game and got dropped by the Buffaloes 17-14. Even though they didn’t get a chance to play for the Pac12 title, Utah went on to win the Sun Bowl in dramatic fashion with a 30-27 win against Georgia Tech.
So even though Utah didn’t win the conference they had an impressive debut, showing the ability to not only compete in the conference, but the ability to win at both home and on the road, in all conditions. Utah at times faltered but in the end gave a consistent effort. So what can we expect next year from the Utes?
The Good: The Utes are back and stronger. They are one huge reason the Pac12 is going to be back and tough next year. Not only does Utah have to ability to put up points and take on just about anyone in the Pac12, they have the ability to do it like no one else in the conference, on the ground!
John White IV is returning and look out for this guy! He puts up yards and mixes power with with agility and elusiveness. The Pac12 is heavy with passing attacks but Utah is going to be able to run first and pass second behind this guy, which gives teams a different challenge than the rest of the Pac. The Utes can still throw it well though, as DeVonte Christopher returns as the speedy playmaker on the outside.
Utah is returning so many good players on both sides of the ball, but the X-factor is definitely Jordan Wynn. Wynn missed a lot of last season thanks to injury and that played a huge role in the Utes coming up short for the south title. Jordan makes plays, and gives the team the leader they deserve. With Wynn back at the helm the Utes are a threat both on the ground and in the air, it’s gonna be tough to stop them.
Also returning are some All American candidates on the defensive side of the ball. One of those players is the Pac-12’s best defensive lineman Star Lotulelei (no better name in college football) and another All Conference candidate is the versatile lb/db Brian Blechen. Offenses will have to work extra hard to put up points on these guys, which gives them the ability to be in any game they play down to the final snap.
The Bad: There is very little I can say here. I expect Utah to find itself not only competing in the South, but earning top 25 rankings by mid season. The only thing that can stop the Utes from cruising is the conference they play in. Teams have been making strides and no week is easy in the conference for these guys, so if Utah finds themselves looking past a team or coming out flat, they could drop some key games needed to win their division. The other thing is the elephant in the room, USC. The Utes will have to outdo the hungry Trojans in order for a division title and I have a hard time believing they can do it. It may be just another Sun Bowl year for these guys unless they can find a way to beat the Trojans then stay even with them the rest of the year.
Summary: Don’t count Utah out of the division title race. Week 5 will be the first and biggest step they can take at winning this thing but it’s going to take an entire year of consistent hard play to get the championship. For Utah I label them as “Contenders” this year. Do I think they will win it? No. Do I think they COULD win it? Yes, we’ve seen stranger things in this conference. Either way, keep an eye on the Utes this year.
Next week we’ll be back with a preview of those west side Dawgs.