Claiming a third straight Pac-12 South crown will be a difficult task for the Utah Utes in an abbreviated season. The Utes have plenty of talent across the board, but they lack significant game experience at numerous key positions.
Kyle Whittingham is breaking in nine new starters on defense, including all five positions in the secondary. The Utes are also replacing their top running back and starting quarterback from a year ago. Jake Bentley, a South Carolina transfer, and Cameron Rising are the likely candidates to take over at quarterback. Four different running backs — Devin Brumfield, Jordan Wilmore, Ty Jordan, and Micah Bernard — are in the mix to succeed Zack Moss.
Fortunately for Utah, the schedule is tailor-made for gaining experience without piling up early losses. USC and Arizona State are the only truly challenging opponents on the schedule. Get by both teams and the Utes could be in a strong position to make their third consecutive Pac-12 Championship Game appearance. Utah hosts the Trojans along with Arizona and Oregon State and hits the road to face the Sun Devils, UCLA, and Colorado.
Athlon asked a couple of editors and one college football contributor to share their realistic win/loss projection for Utah in 2020.
Utah Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2020
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
To win its third South Division title in a row, coach Kyle Whittingham’s team has to find a starter at quarterback (likely South Carolina transfer Jake Bentley) and restock a defense that returns only two starters. Despite those preseason concerns, look for the Utes to be in the thick of the race to win the South in the abbreviated 2020 season. Bentley will have help to ease into the starting lineup from one of the Pac-12’s top offensive lines, along with tight end Brant Kuithe and receiver Britain Covey. Whittingham consistently builds some of the conference’s top defenses, so even though several new faces are into the lineup, a significant drop off is unlikely. Utah hosts USC but hits the road to play Arizona State a week later. Those two games will decide just how high the Utes climb in this division.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Utah has won the Pac-12 South in back-to-back years and Kyle Whittingham has built something special in Salt Lake City but this year's team is a little light on that championship experience. The Utes are known for their defense and I just think the nine new starters will result in a few bumps along the way, particularly in the middle part of their shortened schedule. But don't worry, Utah won't be "down" for long.
John Coon (@johncoonsports)
Utah drew the most favorable schedule possible. The Utes get USC at home and have only one truly tough road game with Arizona State. If the new secondary can mesh quickly, the Utes should be tough on defense as usual. Utah probably won't approach the same level as the unit that led the Pac-12 in total defense (269.2 ypg), scoring defense (15.0 ppg), rushing defense (81.8 ypg), and passing defense (187.4 ypg) last season. Then again, the Utes only need to be above average to be successful there. On offense, Utah is flush with experience and talent at receiver led by tight end Brant Kuithe and slot receiver Britain Covey. They will make it easier for the team's new QB, and if a lead back quickly emerges from a crowded backfield, Utah will be in good shape offensively. Count on the Utes staying right in the mix for another Pac-12 South title.