COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2012 PRESEASON TOP 25
Pac-12 South PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Kyle Whittingham, 71-32 (8 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dennis Erickson, Brian Johnson | DEF. COORDINATOR: Kalani Sitake
Utah went through three quarterbacks in 2012, losing original starter Jordan Wynn to a career-ending shoulder injury in the second game and then benching his replacement in mid-October. That move enabled Travis Wilson to start seven conference games as a true freshman. He responded with three victories, but Utah finished last in the Pac-12 in passing, averaging 190.7 yards per game. Wilson’s efficiency should improve with new co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson’s emphasis on throwing to the running backs.
The Utes will miss John White, who became the first back in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. Kelvin York showed positive signs as White’s backup in 2012, but he missed most of spring drills with a turf toe injury.
The instability at quarterback did not help, but the receivers also contributed to Utah’s lack of production in the passing game. Tight end Jake Murphy emerged as a dependable pass-catcher, but the wide receivers were inconsistent. Based on the spring’s results, Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott should increase their production.
Injuries and ineffectiveness on the line held back Utah’s offense in the first half of 2012. Once the five starting linemen became more cohesive, the offense improved. Jeremiah Poutasi was one of the line’s mainstays as a freshman, and even more is expected of him in his move from right tackle to left tackle.
Compared with the offense, Utah’s defense has measured up well against Pac-12 competition. The Utes ranked fifth in the conference in total defense in 2012. Maintaining that position will require that Utah adequately replaces tackle Star Lotulelei, possibly the best defensive lineman in school history.
Trevor Reilly led the team in tackles while moving between end and linebacker. Reilly and Brian Blechen give defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake flexibility. The staff is committed to using Blechen, a former safety, as a linebacker to add speed to the defense. He’s determined to have a good senior year after being suspended for three games for violating team rules in 2012.
The Utes were unsettled in the secondary, due to Blechen’s absence and some injuries. Improvement is expected, with junior college transfer Tevin Carter arriving in August and redshirt freshman Justin Thomas having emerged in the spring. Converted safety Keith McGill could become the kind of big, physical corner the Utes like.
New rules designed to limit kickoff returns in college football hardly affected Reggie Dunn. He was credited with four 100-yard touchdown returns in the last five games of the season. In Dunn’s absence, the Utes will hope for similar production from Anderson and Charles Henderson, who also handles punt returns. Tom Hackett was effective as a short punting specialist as a freshman; 15 of his 25 kicks were downed inside the 20-yard line. He’ll likely do all of the punting now, but the placekicking is another issue. Jamie Sutcliffe and Andy Phillips shared those duties in the spring, and coach Kyle Whittingham plans to bring in other candidates in August.
The Utes became known for their major bowl breakthroughs and high national rankings as a Mountain West power, but they have found life in the Pac-12 to be much more demanding. Utah has gone 7–11 in two seasons of conference play. How Erickson’s product performs against Pac-12 defenses will determine whether the Utes can get back to a bowl game in 2013. They face a more difficult challenge, with Oregon and Stanford on their schedule for the first time since the Utes joined the league. “We have a lot of work to do, addressing our deficiencies,” Whittingham says.