Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham
2014 record: 9-4 overall, 5-4 Pac 12 South
2014 Postseason results: Beat Colorado State 45-10 in the Las Vegas Bowl
2015 returning starters: 6 offense, 5 defense
Odds to win 2016 College Football Championship game: 200/1
Odds to win 2015 Pac 12 Championship Game: 20/1
Odds to Win 2015 Pac 12 South Division: 21/2
Regular season wins: under 7 -120 / over 7 -110
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Last year, the Utah Utes had easily their best season since moving to the Pac 12 several years ago from the Mountain West. The Utes won 9 games including a Las Vegas Bowl rout over former Mountain west rival Colorado State.
Eleven starters are back for coach Kyle Whittingham, now in his eleventh season as coach. The Utes will try to build on the success from last year.
Last year, the Utah offense averaged 388 yards per game and 31 points per game. Six starters are back for co-offensive coordinators Aaron Roderick and Jim Harding. Last year’s offensive coordinator Dave Christensen accepted an assistant coach position at Texas A&M.
Senior quarterbacks Travis Wilson and Kendal Thompson split time last year at quarterback, and will likely do so again in 2015. Wilson was cleared to play last year after a severe concussion in 2013. Wilson completed 60.7% of his passes for 2,170 yards with 18 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Wilson was also the team’s second leading rusher with 114 carries for 309 yards and 5 touchdowns. Former Oklahoma quarterback Thompson replaced an inconsistent Wilson twice last year as the starter, but Thompson suffered a knee injury before the bowl game. Thompson threw for 324 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, and also rushed for 192 yards on 56 carries with 1 touchdown.
Running back Devontae Booker is back for his senior year after he had 292 carries for 1,512 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014. Booker also had 43 catches for 306 yards and 2 touchdowns. JUCO transfer Joe Williams will likely get the back-up carries. Sophomore Troy McCormick suffered a knee injury in the spring game and is questionable for the fall.
Utah must replace receiver Kaelin Clay now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He had 43 catches for 523 yards and 4 touchdowns. Utah will rely on senior receiver Kenneth Scott who had 48 catches for 506 yards and 4 touchdowns. Utah must also replace tight end Westlee Tonga who had 30 catches for 391 yards and 4 touchdowns. Siale Fakailoatonga will be the new starting tight end. Receiver Dres Anderson is now with the San Francisco 49ers after making 22 catches and 4 touchdowns. Bubba Poole moves from running back to receiver in 2015. He had 49 carries for 211 yards and 3 touchdowns, and also had 12 catches for 93 yards.
Three starters are back on the offensive line, but tackle Jeremiah Poutasi left early for the NFL draft. Poutasi is now with the Tennessee Titans. Center Siaosi Aiono and left guard Isaac Asiata should anchor a line that opened up plenty of holes for Booker last year. J.J. Dielman returns at left tackle.
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Last year, the Utes gave up 394 yards per game and 25 points per game on defense. Veteran John Pease came out of retirement at the age of 71 to become the new coordinator after last year’s coordinator Kalani Sitake left for Oregon State. Five starters are back for Pease.
Defensive end Nate Orchard is now with the Cleveland Browns after recording 18.5 sacks last season. End Hunter Dimick is back after recording 10 sacks last season. Tackle Lowell Lotulelei is also back.
Jared Norris and Gionni Paul are back for a linebacking unit that was plagued by injuries last year. Norris had 116 tackles last year including 13 for loss. Jason Whittingham, the nephew of coach Kyle will likely start at the other linebacker.
Cornerback Dominique Hatfield was supposed to be the only returning starter in the secondary. However, he was dismissed from the team after being arrested for aggravated robbery. Jason Thompson and Marcus Williams will compete for one of the safety spots.
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Kicker Andy Phillips made 23 of 28 field goals last year. Punter Tom Hackett averaged 47 yards per punt and landed just under half of his punts inside the 20. Bubba Poole looks to replace Kaelin Clay as the kick returner. Clay also returned punts and had 3 punt returns for touchdowns and a kick return for a touchdown. Boobie Hobbs will return punts.
Utah has a tough non-conference schedule with three projected bowl teams. The Utes host Michigan and Utah State before traveling to Fresno State. Utah closes September with the conference opener at Oregon. October brings home games against California, Arizona State and Oregon State, and a road game at USC. In November, the Utes travel to Washington and Arizona before hosting UCLA and Colorado to close out the season.
Although Utah faces a very difficult schedule, this team has a lot of veteran leadership. Still with three new coordinators, this program might take a slight step back. I think the Utes win 7 or 8 games and qualify for a mid-tier bowl, perhaps a return trip to Las Vegas.
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