Utah has yet to break through with a Pac-12 South title but that could change this fall. Kyle Whittingham's team returns plenty of experience on offense and returns a few impact players on defense. The schedule is not easy, but the rest of the division is dealing with plenty of turnover, so this may finally be the Utes' year to take that next step forward.
Previewing Utah Football's Offense for 2018
Get full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, and national rankings. Click here to buy a copy today or visit your local newsstand!
Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley was a surprise choice over returning starter Troy Williams to begin the 2017 season and played well as a sophomore, while missing three conference games and most of another due to injuries. Huntley will have to hold off challenges from highly touted true freshman Jack Tuttle and redshirt freshman Jason Shelley, and the coaches want him to be more judicious in absorbing hits.
Running back Zack Moss was a gauge of Utah's offensive success in 2017. The more he carried the ball, the more productive the Utes became. That was especially true at the end of the season, as he gained 196 yards vs. Colorado and 150 vs. West Virginia in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
The Utes will miss Darren Carrington II, who gave them one of the best receiving years in school history in his one season as a graduate transfer. The return of Britain Covey from a two-year church mission will help considerably. Covey caught 43 passes for 519 yards as a freshman in 2015 and should fit perfectly into offensive coordinator Troy Taylor's scheme.
Having four new starters on the line was a limiting factor for Utah's offense in 2017, which averaged 413.4 yards per game - down slightly from the 2016 production that resulted in staff changes. Taylor was encouraged by the offense's showing in November, as the Utes scored 30-plus points in wins over UCLA and Colorado and a loss at Washington. The line's growth had a lot to do with that improvement, and having four returning starters is a positive development.
Previewing Utah Football's Defense for 2018
Utah is known for its defensive linemen, annually ranking among the Pac-12's top teams at this position. Bradlee Anae is the star of the group as an athletic end who led the team with seven sacks.
The Utes usually employ two linebackers and must replace both from last season, but Chase Hansen might be the team's best athlete, and Cody Barton has been a part-time starter for two seasons. Originally signed as a QB, Hansen has played mostly at safety.
Marquise Blair was establishing himself at strong safety when he was injured and missed the last month of the season. He tied for fourth on the team in tackles despite playing in only nine games. Corrion Ballard was productive at free safety and intercepted two passes. Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley, in his 11th season on the staff, believes the Utes have more depth at than ever at cornerback. The top player is Julian Blackmon, whose led the team with four interceptions.
Previewing Utah Football's Specialists for 2018
The Utes have a knack for finding and developing kickers. Former college soccer player Matt Gay won the Lou Groza Award as the country's top placekicker in his first season of Division I football, making 30-of-34 field goals (going 5-of-6 from 50-plus yards). Punter Mitch Wishnowsky didn't repeat as the Ray Guy Award winner but still had a solid junior season.
Utah is entering its eighth season in the Pac-12, and Kyle Whittingham now has been a head coach in this conference longer than he filled that role in the Mountain West. So the Utes are feeling some pressure to win their first Pac-12 South championship. "We are getting closer and closer to where we want to be, but no one cares about being close," Whittingham says. "We have to get over that hump."
The schedule is difficult - the Utes miss Oregon State and California in the rotation - but the pieces are in place for Utah to threaten USC for supremacy in the South.