1. Who's going to be the starting running back?
Matt Asiata was the starter at the beginning of 2009 before an ACL injury in game 4 cut his season short. After being given an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA, he's back looking to reclaim his spot as the starter. Eddie Wide stepped in for the injured Asiata and ran for over 1,000 yards, garnering first team All Mountain West honors. Asiata is more of a power back that is going to run people over, but is also versatile in his ability to run the wildcat. Wide proved that he is more than a scat back and put up huge numbers in 2009. The Utes can't lose either way as they have arguably the top two backs in the conference. The only concern has to be how one will react to not getting the bulk of the carries. Wide has to have the edge until Asiata proves that he is fully recovered.
2. Each level of the defense lost a star. Who is going to take their place?
Koa Misi, Stevenson Sylvester (along with the other two linebacker starters), and Robert Johnson are all gone. Losing three players of that caliber hurts. If Derrick Shelby returns at full strength from an injury that ended his season late in 2009, he has the ability to be an all conference defensive end. J.J. Williams steps into Stevenson Sylvester's spot as the rover linebacker. Williams has experience as a starter in 2006 before leaving on a mission. If he regains his prior form, he'll make up for the loss of Sylvester. Replacing Robert Johnson is going to be difficult, especially with all the youth in the secondary. Brandon Burton is the standout player of all the DBs, but needs to show more consistency. Don't be surprised if true freshman Lucky Radley, who is slated to come in as a running back, slides over to safety and earns a starting spot. Another true freshman in early-enrollee Damain Payne has coaches very excited as well.
3. Who's calling the plays?
Aaron Roderick was promoted to co-offensive coordinator, joining Dave Schramm, after Roderick took over some of the play calling at the end of last year. While Schramm may have more experience, Roderick is a rising star in the coaching world and is the better long term fit. Schramm will get his shot at the start of the season, but expect Roderick to be the main guy by the end of the year.
4. Who will be the fifth member of the offensive line?
Returning starters Zane Taylor, Caleb Schlauderaff, Tony Bergstrom, and Tevita Stevens have their spots nailed down. The question of who is going to replace All American Zane Beadles at left tackle remains. JC transfer John Cullen, Percy Taumoelau, Sam Brenner, and Walter Watts will all get a shot. Cullen has to be the favorite going in. If one of those four can produce a solid season, the Utes should have the best offensive line in the conference, and one of the best in the country.
5. Who will be the number 2 receiver?
Jereme Brooks is a clear cut number one coming off a very productive season. Luke Matthews and Shaky Smithson are the frontrunners for the other starting spots. Smithson is an underrated player that wasn't utilized properly last year. Watch for his role to expand and for him to surprise a lot of people. Matthews combines good size with top speed and has a promising future. If DeVonte Christopher can start showing some consistency to match his talent, he can be that number 2 guy.
6. Can the Utes win the Mountain West Conference title in their last season before moving to the Pac 10?
The talent is definitely there, especially on offense and special teams, but the unknown that is the defense may put a crimp in their chances. With so little experience on D, especially among the back 7, the Utes have their work cut out for them. Luckily the tougher conference games don't start rolling around until late October so things may be in place by then. On paper, TCU is the best team in the conference, but Utah gets the Horned Frogs at home this year. Assuming the Utes don't slip up at Air Force, the conference title should come down to the November 6th matchup with TCU. That game could also play a big part in a BCS berth for both teams.
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