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Utah Utes 2015 Team Awards

Author:
Devontae Booker

Devontae Booker

Utah exceeded modest preseason expectations by putting together its best Pac-12 season yet. The Utes contended for a Pac-12 South title throughout the season and finished tied for first with USC in the division. Utah has collected nine wins for a second straight season and is on track for 10 wins and a top-25 finish with a victory over BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.

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With just the bowl game left, it's time to look back at Utah's 2015 season and hand out some awards:

Offensive MVP: Devontae Booker, RB

Booker had his season cut short with a knee injury against Arizona. Utah's offense hasn't been the same without him. He wasn't just a bruising runner. Booker also proved an excellent blocker and dynamic receiver out of the backfield. The senior running back amassed 1,579 all-purpose yards in 10 games. He ranked third among Pac-12 players in both rushing yardage (1,261 yards) and all-purpose yardage.

Defensive MVP: Gionni Paul, LB

On defense, Paul has mirrored the impact that Booker made on offense. In his two seasons with the Utes, the Miami transfer has carved out a reputation as a disruptive player. Paul finished the regular season with a team-best 109 tackles, four interceptions and three fumble recoveries.

Best Freshman: Britain Covey, WR/PR

No one could have anticipated that Covey would have such a dramatic impact in his first season. Covey turned out to be a game-changer at slot receiver and as a punt returner. He ranked as Utah's top receiver during the regular season with 518 yards on 41 receptions.

Best Newcomer: Joe Williams, RB

Williams only saw major playing time in the final three regular season games, but he offered hope that Utah's offense will survive Booker's absence next season. The junior totaled 386 yards on 79 carries during the regular season. In both starts against UCLA and Colorado, he crossed the 100-yard plateau.

Best Play of the Season: Boobie Hobbs' punt return against Oregon

In a season filled with crazy plays, Hobbs produced one of the most endearing highlights. He ripped off a 69-yard punt return in Utah's 62-20 rout of Oregon in the team's Pac-12 opener. Hobbs raced down the sideline untouched after Covey acted as a decoy and pretended to field the punt. His fake drew the bulk of the Ducks' defense, leaving Hobbs open to score.

Best Performance: Devontae Booker vs. California

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Booker turned in his finest game of the season in Utah's 30-24 victory over California. The senior totaled 222 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries. It represented the most carries and third-highest yardage in a single game by a Pac-12 running back this season.

Best Game: 62-20 rout of Oregon

Utah vaulted itself into the College Football Playoff picture for a time with a thorough dismantling of the 2014 Pac-12 champions on their home turf. The Utes piled up 530 yards and forced three turnovers in a 62-20 victory over the Ducks. It showed that Utah's successes in 2014 were no fluke, but a sign of things to come.

Defining Moment: Ending losing streaks

Utah showed it had staying power as a Pac-12 contender by ending several long losing streaks in 2015. The Utes won a Pac-12 opener for the first time. They beat Arizona State and Washington for the first time since joining the league. It's a positive sign for the Utes going into 2016 and beyond.

Biggest Surprise: Marcus Williams, S

Williams is one player who unexpectedly fueled Utah's effectiveness in gaining turnovers this season. The sophomore safety totaled just one career interception before the season. He has enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2015, entering the bowl game with a team-best five interceptions.

Biggest Disappointment: November finish

When the month of November began, Utah controlled its own destiny and seemed perfectly positioned to win the Pac-12 South title. Back-to-back losses to Arizona and UCLA cost the Utes a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Utah went from dreaming about securing a College Football Playoff spot to playing in the Las Vegas Bowl against BYU.

Senior That Will be Missed the Most: Jared Norris, LB

Norris (above, right) provided strong leadership on the defensive side of the ball. He acted like the quarterback of the defense and helped teammates find the right spots to make disruptive plays and create turnovers. Norris tallied 86 tackles and forced a pair of fumbles during the regular season.

Player to Watch in 2016: Troy Williams, QB

The former Washington quarterback will have a chance to step in to lead the offense right away with Travis Wilson graduating at the end of this season. Williams seems like he has the right skills to make a major impact from the start. He passed for 2,750 yards and 31 touchdowns as a sophomore at Santa Monica (Calif.) College this season.

Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Offense

Utah will have to find players who can step up and replace key offensive playmakers Wilson, Booker, Covey and Kenneth Scott next season. The defense is always strong and the offensive line will return four starters in 2016. Inexperience at the offensive skill positions, however, could cause problems unless new playmakers emerge.

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.