No. 38 Utah
Utah won nine games again — for the third-straight season — to give them a 28-11 mark the last three years, effectively squashing any trolls who believed the Utes didn't belong in the Pac-12. Still, something is missing.
Utah is still chasing their first Pac-12 South title. Can they get it done with just seven returning starters and an unsettled quarterback situation?
2016 Record: 9-4 (5-4, Pac-12)
Once again Utah won a lot of games. But once again, they failed to reach the Pac-12 Championship.
Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham (14th year, 104-50 overall)
Yes, we're going to keep beating a dead horse, because Utah has been talented enough to play for the Pac-12 each of the last three years under longtime head coach Kyle Whittingham.
"We’re not going to apologize for winning nine-plus games the last three years, but we want to win a championship," Whittingham told Athlon Sports. "We’ve got to find a way to break through.”
Whittingham — routinely a popular candidate every November for a "promotion" — is 46-30 overall since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, but just 25-29 in conference games. The sub-.500 conference mark prompts a lot of unwarranted and undeserved criticism for one of the best coaches in America.
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Troy Williams, QB Tyler Huntley, RB Zack Moss, RB Armand Shyne, RB Devonta'e Henry-Cole, WR Raelon Singleton, WR Demari Simpkins, WR Siaosi Wilson, OT Salesi Uhalafe
Not many Power Five teams enter fall camp with a three-man open quarterback competition. And it almost never happens for a team expecting to flirt with 10 wins and challenge for a division title.
Troy Williams, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior, is the incumbent. While the former Washington transfer has at times displayed remarkable athleticism and big arm talent, he's also shown irresponsible decision-making, leaving the door open for sophomore Tyler Huntley or Alabama transfer Cooper Bateman to win the job.
"To be honest with you, I’ve liked all three quarterbacks," offensive coordinator Troy Taylor told HERO Sports. "They’re all different but they’re all talented and I feel like we can win with all of them. Tyler is dynamic like [Lamar Jackson], a dual-threat guy who can make things happen with his arm and legs. Very competitive. He gives you a different element."
Taylor is entering his first season as coordinator. Just two years ago he was a high school coach in California and last year a coordinator at Eastern Washington. He'll be tasked with injecting more creativity in a balanced but unreliable offense that scored 24 or fewer points six times, including three times in losses in which the opponent failed to top 30 points.
The Utes' top rusher and receiver are both gone, leaving Devonta'e Henry-Cole, Armand Shyne and Zack Moss in the backfield, and Raelon Singleton on the outside. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Singleton exploded in 2016 after a quiet freshman season. He had 464 yards and four touchdowns, averaging more than 17 yards per catch. Also keep an eye on rising sophomore receivers Siaosi Wilson and Demari Simpkins.
Up front, four starters are gone, namely first-round pick Garett Bolles at tackle. All four players were selected in the NFL Draft. Senior tackle Salesi Uhalafe is the lone returning starter.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DT Lowell Lotulelei, DT Filipo Mokofisi, LB Sunia Tauteoli, LB Kavika Luafatasaga, S Chase Hansen
For a defense losing three studs to the NFL and a half-dozen other key contributors, the Utes are in surprisingly good shape — at least in the front seven.
Though they won't immediately replace one of the country's elite pass-rushing duos in Pita Taumoepenu and Hunter Dimick, they do have two powerful interior lineman in Lowell Lotulelei — the brother of former Utes' star and current Carolina Panthers' defensive tackle Star Lotulelei — and Filipo Mokofisi.
Lotulelei (below), who eats up double teams and provides an occasional backfield burst, is a potential first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Two seniors are back at linebacker in Filipo Mokofisi and Sunia Tauteoli, along with converted quarterback Chase Hansen at safety. Hansen — by far their most experienced defensive back after registering a team-high 90 tackles and nine passes defended in 2016 — is one of many players who've praised defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley for tapping their potential.
“The more you’re around coach Scalley, the more you realize he’s always going to push you just a little bit further,” Hansen said in December. “He’s always going to want to make you a little bit better. And he’s always going to find the things that win kind of push you in certain areas.”
Notable Player Losses
RB Joe Williams, WR Tim Patrick, WR Cory Butler, OT Garett Bolles, OT Sam Tevi, G Isaac Asiata, C J.J. Dielman, DT Hunter Dimick, DE Pita Taumoepenu, CB Brian Allen, S Marcus Williams.
Forgive the laundry list of losses but that's what happens when eight players are selected in the NFL draft. Five of those eight picks were offensive players. First-round pick Garett Bolles, along with three other linemen draftees, allowed running back Joe Williams — a fourth-rounder — to run free last year.
Non-draftrees Tim Patrick and Corey Butler combined for nearly 1,100 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Butler also averaged 8.2 yards per carry on the ground (162 yards).
Defensively, Marcus Williams and Brian Allen — combined for nine interceptions in 2016 — leave big holes in the secondary. Disruptive linemen Hunter Dimick and Pita Taumoepenu — combined 31.5 tackles for loss and 22.5 sacks — are also gone.
Notable Player Additions
QB Cooper Bateman, G Jordan Agasiva, LB Cody Ippolito, LB Marquise Blair, S Corrion Ballard,
The most important addition is a player who is guaranteed the least amount of playing time, Alabama transfer quarterback Cooper Bateman. He threw for 410 yards and two touchdowns in minimal playing time in two seasons with the Tide before transferring and getting immediate eligibility at Utah.
“I’m a Cooper Bateman fan," said head coach Kyle Whittingham in April. "I think he’s a great kid. He’s a mature kid. He’s got a great attitude. I can’t say enough good things about him. It’s going to be interesting this fall. I mean, he has got a shot. We’ll see what happens in fall camp.”
Three JUCO transfers are competing for starting jobs or significant snaps. Jordan Agasiva is a massive (6-foot-4, 345 pound) guard from Hawaii who played two seasons at Pima Community College. Linebacker Marquise Blair comes from Ohio via Dodge City Community College, and safety Corrion Ballard is a Texas native who spent two years at Blinn Community College.
Also, linebacker Cody Ippolito is a grad transfer from Arizona, where had 80 career tackles in 27 appearances.
After visiting Arizona in their Pac-12 opener on Sept. 22, the Utes' remaining conference schedule can be broken into three stretches. First, they have Stanford and USC in brutal back-to-back games. Next is an easier three-game stretch that should produce three wins. And lastly, is another difficult run with games against Washington State, Washington and Colorado.
|Thursday, Aug. 31||vs. North Dakota|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||at BYU|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||vs. San Jose State|
|Friday, Sept. 22||at Arizona|
|Saturday, Oct. 7||vs. Stanford|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||at USC|
|Saturday, Oct. 21||vs. Arizona State|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||at Oregon|
|Friday, Nov. 3||vs. UCLA|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||vs. Washington State|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||at Washington|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||vs. Colorado|