2015 Record: 10-3 (6-3)
Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham (95-46; 12th year)
Returning Starters: 7 Offense/6 Defense
2015 Offense: 336 ypg (183 rush/180 pass); 30.6 ppg
2015 Defense: 367 ypg (109 rush/258 pass); 22.3
Offense: A big reason for Utah's success last season was their +13 turnover ratio. They took care of the ball and a lot of that fell on senior QB Travis Wilson. Wilson, while not very proficient as a passer, was smart with the ball and he was a real threat with his legs, finishing second on the team with nearly 700 yards rushing and seven scores. His leadership will be tough to replace, but Troy Williams is the odds-on favorite to win and he would be a huge upgrade as far as passing is concerned. While losing Wilson was big, losing Devontae Booker, a multi-talented tailback, could be even bigger. Joe Williams appears to be the heir apparent, but that will likely be decided in fall camp. The receivers, as currently constituted are a nondescript group who are role player and have not proven themselves to be much in the way of gamebreakers although the Ute coaches hope that changes this season. Along the offensive line Isaac Asiata, J.J. Dielman and Sam Tevi lead the way, but keep an eye on Garett Bolles, a transfer from Snow Junior College, who many think could win the left tackle job, which would cause some shifting along the line. Williams or whoever wins the starting job under center, will need to be a better passer than Wilson was since they likely won't have the ground game to help offset things. If they can maintain their points per game average of 30.6, that would have to be considered a success while they transition to a whole new offensive backfield.
Defense: The Ute defense is led by it's defensive line and the leader there is Lowell Lotulelei who is outstanding vs. the run. With him in the middle holding things up, that allows defensive ends Kylie Fitts and Hunter Dimick to run free and wreak havoc when the opposing quarterback drops back to pass. The secondary should also be strong with four of the five starters returning. Justin Thomas, Dominique Hatfield and Reginald Porter are three cornerbacks who have a lot of experience and safety Marcus Williams is the top returning tackler (66 tackles, 10 pass breakups) and an All-Pac 12 performer. The concern for the Utes' defense is their linebackers where their top two -- Gionni Paul and Jared Norris -- both have graduated. Like we noted in the offensive write-up, Utah was +13 in the turnover ratio and a lot of that had to do with the ballhawking style that the coaches teach. They will need to be just as opportunistic this year as well as getting consistent pressure from the front four while allowing the young linebackers to focus on coverage and run responsibilities.
The Bottom Line: Everyone seems to underestimate the Utes who year in and year out always seem to push teams to the brink, win or lose. That will always be their hallmark under Kyle Willingham who is one of the top coaches in the country and the most tenured coach in the conference. The key will be the quarterback position. As we noted, it appears it will be Williams and he's a very solid passer, but he won't be the running threat that Wilson was, however, if he can be consistent in the passing game while the Utes look for a replacement for Booker, things could wind up even better for them offensively. On defense, they'll be physical with every team they play and they were the best in the conference against the run last season. With the loss of experience at linebacker, they will probably give up more on the ground, but with an experienced defensive line and secondary, they should be tougher vs. the pass. Ultimately, this is a team that looks like a tough out for each opponent they play, but until they can find some consistency on offense, they could struggle a bit although they should be bowl eligible by the end of the year.null