Dodging the spotlight will no longer be possible for Utah. The defending Pac-12 South champions shed the last of their underdog status after the league's media made the Utes their preseason pick to win an outright Pac-12 championship in 2019.
Will Utah rise to meet those elevated expectations? Or will the Utes get crushed under the weight of the preseason hype? Many signs point to a special season for Utah. The Utes are flush with depth and talent at many positions. Utah returns 15 starters — including key offensive stars like Tyler Huntley, Zack Moss, and Britain Covey. If that trio can stay healthy and the defense can build on the foundation it established a year ago, the schedule sets up well for Utah to be a fixture in the Top 25 all season.
USC and Washington stand out as the most serious road tests. The Utes do not play Oregon or Stanford in the regular season and they only face four road games in Pac-12 play. It isn't unreasonable to expect Utah to build up some serious momentum as the season progresses.
Athlon asked a few editors and one of its college football contributors to share their realistic win/loss projection for Utah in 2019.
Utah Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2019
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Kyle Whittingham’s team is a heavy favorite to win the Pac-12 South and tops the list of dark-horse playoff contenders for 2019. The Utes always seem to develop standout defenses under Whittingham’s watch, and this year’s group is especially strong up front and solid in the secondary. In addition to a standout defense, Utah should take a step forward on offense with the arrival of veteran play-caller Andy Ludwig. Quarterback Tyler Huntley is primed for his best all-around year in Salt Lake City and should develop more as a passer with Ludwig’s arrival. The schedule is favorable. Utah gets rival BYU in the opener and has to play at USC on Sept. 20. If the Utes win those two games, Whittingham’s team should be undefeated going into the Nov. 2 matchup against Washington. The guess here is a loss to the Huskies, along with an upset defeat somewhere along the way. But even with a 10-2 mark, Utah should be in the mix for a New Year’s Six bowl and a top-10 finish in the final rankings.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
There's been a lot of hype about Utah in the offseason, and it's well deserved. This is a very good team that is strong in all of the right areas — quarterback, offensive line, defensive line and coaching staff. The Utes have also picked a good year to be good, as the rest of the Pac-12 South is kind of a mess. And they also don't play Stanford and Oregon from the North. On paper, the two most difficult games at this point appear to be at USC and at Washington. And depending on what happens in the first few weeks of the season, Utah has a good chance to be favored for the trip to USC. I'm not quite sure this team is good enough to win 11 games, but it's hard to find more than one loss on the schedule.
John Coon (@johncoonsports)
Utah hasn't won more than 10 games in a season since the 2008 BCS-busting campaign. The Utes are poised to do it again in 2019. Teams are going to have a brutal time trying to run the ball on the Utes. Utah returns the entire two-deep on the defensive line — led by returning Pac-12 sack leader Bradlee Anae. It means the Utes could lead the Pac-12 in rushing defense a second straight year. When Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss are healthy, the offense is equally difficult for opponents to contain. Keeping them healthy is essential. Utah is physical and demanding on both sides of the ball. Some questions remain at linebacker and at placekicker. If the Utes can get players to step up in those areas, a trip to the Rose Bowl — or even a spot in the College Football Playoff — could be the reward at season's end.