Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham
2015 record: 10-3 overall, 6-3 Pac 12 South
2015 Postseason results: Beat BYU 35-28 in the Las Vegas Bowl
2015 returning starters: 6 offense, 8 defense
Odds to win 2017 College Football Championship game: 165/1
Odds to win 2016 Pac 12 Championship Game: +1475
Odds to Win 2016 Pac 12 South Division: +470
Regular season wins: under 7 1/2 -125 / over 7 1/2 +105
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At one point last year, the Utah Utes were 6-0 and ranked #3 in the country. The Utes would falter down the stretch going 3-3 though and didn’t even qualify for the PAC 12 Championship game. Utah did end the season on a positive note beating arch-rival BYU 35-28 in the Las Vegas Bowl. Fourteen starters are back for coach Kyle Whittingham.
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Utah won 10 games last year despite the offense struggling at times. The Utes averaged 363 yards per game on offense including 180 passing yards. Utah did average 31 points a game. Six starters are back for co-coordinators Aaron Roddick and Jim Harding.
Utah must replace four year starter Travis Wilson at quarterback. Although he battled some injuries during his career he was a reliable quarterback when healthy. Last year, he threw for 2,095 yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and rushed for 490 yards with 7 touchdowns. There is a three way battle to replace him between JUCO transfer Troy Williams, Brandon Cox and Tyler Huntley. As of this writing no decision has been made, but reports say Williams is ahead right now. Williams began his career at Washington.
Running back Devontae Booker is now with the Denver Broncos. He rushed for 1,261 yards with 11 touchdowns, and he made 37 catches for 318 yards. He missed the last three games last year with a knee injury. His replacement Joe Williams rushed for 399 yards in three games. Williams will be the feature back. He rushed for 477 yards on 104 carries with 3 touchdowns, and made 11 catches. Troy McCormick will also get some carries.
Including Booker, the top four receivers are gone for the Utes. Britain Covey, Kenneth Scott, and Harrison Handley each caught four touchdowns last year. The unit took another hit when two projected starters were suspended or injured. Converted cornerback turned receiver Cory Butler-Byrd has been suspended indefinitely and tight end Siale Fakailoatonga tore his ACL. Tyrone Smith and Raelon Singleton should start along with Kyle Fulks. Smith had 18 catches last year. Tim Patrick looks to return from a leg injury that cost him all of 2015. Evan Moeai will start at tight end.
The Utes will start five upperclassmen up front led by right tackle J.J. Dielman. Sam Tevi will start at the other tackle. The guards will be Isaac Asiata and Salesi Uhatafe. Nick Nowakowski will start at center. The line only allowed 23 sacks last year.
Utah allowed 366 total yards per game and 22 points per game. The Utes were #6 against the run nationally allowing just 109 yards per game on defense. The pass defense was a different story though as Utah was #103 in the country allowing 258 yards per game through the air. New coordinator Morgan Scalley gets 8 starters back. Scalley takes over for the retiring John Pease.
Tackle Lowell Lotulelei was All-Pac 12 last year with 5 tackles for loss. Filipo Mokofisi will also start at tackle. Kylie Fitts and Hunter Dimick will start at the end. Fitts had 41 tackles including 8 tackles for loss with 7 sacks.
Sunia Tauteoli and Cody Barton should head the linebackers. JUCO transfer David Luafatasaga will also contribute heavily in the rotation.
For a team with a bad pass defense, Utah made a lot of interceptions with 22. Free safety Marcus Williams was all Pac 12 last year with 5 interceptions. Chase Hansen will start at the other safety. Dominique Hatfield and Reginald Porter will man the corners. Justin Thompson will start the nickel back.
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Mitch Wishnowsky has some large shoes to fill at punter. Tom Hackett has graduated after averaging 48 yards per punt last year. Kicker Andy Phillips made 23 of 27 field goals last year. Butler-Byrd was supposed to return kicks again after averaging 27.8 yards per return and he scored a touchdown last year. Punt returner Boobie Hobbs will likely do both jobs. He averaged 8.78 yards per punt return with a touchdown despite only returning 9 punts during the season.
Schedule and Outlook
Utah hosts Southern Utah before renewing their rivalry with BYU in Salt Lake City. The Utes travel to San Jose State before conference play. In conference, Utah hosts USC, Arizona, Washington and Oregon. The Utes travel to California, Oregon State, UCLA, Arizona State and Colorado.
There are a lot of questions on offense, especially at wide receiver. With an experienced line and a solid running back, expect Utah to lean more on the running game like they did last year. The defense should be better with eight starters back. If the pass defense improves, this team could surprise UCLA and USC in the South division. I think this team takes a slight step back with eight wins though.
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