2011 Record: (8-5, 4-5 in Pac-12)
Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham (66-25 Overall, 4-5 in Pac-12)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 Sun Bowl: beat Georgia Tech 30-27
Must Win: 8/20 vs Northern Colorado, 9/7 at Utah St, 10/20 at Oregon St, 11/3 vs Washington St
Revenge: 9/22 at Arizona St, 10/4 vs USC, 10/27 vs Cal, 11/10 at Washington, 11/23 at Colorado
Swing Games: 9/15 vs BYU, 10/13 at UCLA
Stats to Cheer: gained 33 turnovers in 2011 (1st in Pac-12, 4th in Nation), allowed opponents to score TDs on just 45.95% of trips to the red zone (1st in Pac-12, 8th in Nation)
Stats to Fear: converted just 33.52% of third downs in 2011 (last in Pac-12, 109th in Nation); had 140 plays of 10 or more yards in 2011 (last in Pac-12, 103rd in Nation)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 9; Defense: 7; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: DT Star Lotulelei (43 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 9 TFL), S Brian Blechen (78 tackles, 8 TFL, 3 INT), LB Trevor Reilly (47 tackles, 5 sacks, 8 TFL), CB Ryan Lacy (51 tackles, 2 INT)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Jordan Wynn (6 TD, 2 INT), RB John White (1520 yds rush, 15 TD), WR DeVonte Christopher (42 rec, 5 TD)
Inside Scoop with Block U:
CFBZ: Utah had an injury at QB last year and finished the year with the least amount of yards per game in the Pac-12. What are the primary things the Utes need to improve on offense?
Block U: The most important thing they need to improve on this season is not having an injured quarterback again. The Utes started Jon Hays after Jordan Wynn went down and he didn’t have near the experience needed to lead a Pac-12 offense. Prior to coming to Utah, he was at Division II Omaha-Nebraska, who decided, shortly before the season, to drop their football program. So, he wasn’t even a FCS quarterback – but one whose play primarily came from the division below that. The hope here is that Wynn’s health continues throughout the season and he’s successful in improving that offense.
CFBZ: Utah had one of the top defenses in the league last year. Who are some players to watch on that side of the football?
Block U: The best player, probably on either side of the ball, is Star Lotulelei. He’s a defensive tackle that opted to return for his senior season even though he was pegged to go high in this year’s NFL draft. He will definitely be the defensive star and if he lives up to the hype, could find himself toward the top of the NFL boards come 2013.
CFBZ: What are the biggest reasons to be optimistic about Utah football this season?
Block U: I think it’s the balance of starters returning and the fact last year wasn’t disastrous, even with everything that went south. If Wynn can make it through the season without injury, and the offensive line fills some holes, not only will Utah have a solid offensive unit, they might have one of the best defenses in the country. That generally equals some wins – maybe even a team contending for the Pac-12 South. It doesn’t hurt that USC trips to Salt Lake this year and Utah gave them a tough fight in Los Angeles last year.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for 2012 and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Block U: I don’t have a gut feeling. This season could be something close to special and it also could be filled with ups and downs like last year. My guess is that Utah’s regular season record will fall between eight and ten wins. Anything worse than that and I’m going to be disappointed, especially if the Utes finish with the same conference record as last year. Anything better than that and, obviously, we’ll be overjoyed.
The Utes struggled to get out of the shoot in their first season in the Pac-12 as they started just 3-4. Their starting QB went down in game four but once the schedule turned favorable they were able to win five of their last six games. According to Phil Steele, Utah is the most experienced team in the Pac-12 and 13th in the Nation.
Jordan Wynn didn't appear to be at 100% any time during the season last year. This spring he looked better and if he can come back healthy and ready to play it will be a boost to the Utes offense and that already features a 1500 yard rusher. Balance will be big for Utah as the running game was shut down in their five losses (averaged 120 less yards per game in losses). The offense won't be among the Pac-12's elite but if they can improve it will go along way to helping out the defense.
The defense was the big reason that Utah was in contention for the Pac-12 South title in their first year in the conference. They led the league in takeaways, scoring defense, yards per play and red zone conversions. The defense did lose some key players at linebacker but I would expect the line and the secondary to be able to make up any deficiencies and they should play close to last years level if not better.
Utah looks like the second best team in the Pac-12 South and unless one of the new coaches in the Pac-12 has a really quick turnaround I would expect them to have a successful season. One big key for Utah is who they avoid. Stanford and Oregon are once again not on the schedule this season. Look for the Utes to capitalize on that this year.
2012 Prediction: 9-3
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