Southern Football Report Preseason Poll: #22 Utah Utes

Utah LogoIf it feels like Kyle Whittingham has been at Utah forever it’s because compared to his other conference counterparts, he has. When the Utes joined the Pac-12 conference, many felt that Utah was prepared for the jump but it has been a little bumpier of a ride than many had anticipated but in the 2014 season it finally felt like the tires got traction. The Utes were in the thick of the Pac-12 South division race but eventually were passed when they couldn’t quite hang with the Arizona schools.

When Utah was in the Mountain West their calling card was the defense but since joining the Pac-12 Conference, they’ve had a tough time getting back to those lock down defensive performances. Last year was a step in that direction as they were able to hold the likes of USC, Arizona State & Stanford to uncharacteristically low offensive numbers and were 2-1 in those ball games. The Utes return their leading tackler in senior linebacker Jared Norris but lose three of their next four top tacklers from last season. With that being said, Utah still returns seven defensive starters from a squad that cut down on its points per game by four points. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Utes continue to improve defensively in 2015, despite losing defensive end & quarterback sack artist extraordinaire Nate Orchard.

Senior Utah runningback Devontae Booker
Senior Utah runningback Devontae Booker

Offensively, the star of the show will be running back Devontae Booker who spurned the NFL for one more season being a ‘Utah Man’. Booker finished the 2014 season with over 1500 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns with over five yards per carry average on the season. It also helps that Utah will return four of five offensive linemen who helped pave the way for him and the other backs in 2014 who also average over 300 pounds across the board. Utah’s ground game should be excellent in 2015 but there is quite a quarterback competition brewing in the mountains of Salt Lake City. Returning starter Travis Wilson who tossed 18 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions in 2014 is being pushed hard for the starting job by Oklahoma senior transfer Kendal Thompson and there is still a logjam of four quality players behind these two. Whoever ends up as the starting signal caller, they will have to find new targets on the outside as it will mostly be inexperienced players catching the football. Utah returns just one receiver from last year’s quad and will also be breaking in a new tight end.

Utah Utes Head Coach Kyle Whittingham
Utah Utes Head Coach Kyle Whittingham

When looking at the team and the mostly new coaching staff, it’s easy to be optimistic about the Utes’ chances in 2015 until you take a good look at their 2015 schedule. The Utah Utes’ opening month of the season contains two teams who finished with double digit wins in 2014 which doesn’t include their opening opponent, the Michigan Wolverines, who many feel will be one of the most improved teams in the country in 2015. Utah gets the Wolverines at home on the opening Thursday night of the season in prime time. No rest for the weary as the following Friday night marks the 112th meeting between Utah and one of their instate rivals, Utah State who were able to crank out ten wins last season and are poised to challenge for the Mountain West crown. The Utes will finish the month of September on the road against the improved Fresno State Bulldogs and then a trip to Eugene to face off against the Oregon Ducks who the Utes had against the ropes until the Ducks put up 24 4th quarter points. October begins with a much need by week before back-to-back home games against the Cal Bears and the Arizona State Sun Devils before a pivotal road game against USC in The Coliseum. The road to the Pac-12 South division goes through that stadium in 2015. October wraps up in Salt Lake City against the Oregon State Beavers who have been competitive in recent years but not relevant. November will be no walk in the park as it begins with back-to-back road games at Washington & Arizona, who will both be better in 2015 than they were in 2014. The next week has the potential for a huge late season home game for Utah when the UCLA Bruins come to Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Utes wrap up the regular season the following week with a home game against the lowly Colorado Buffaloes.

The Utah Utes were a really fun team to watch in 2014 and I don’t see that changing at all in 2015. They love to run the ball behind that big offensive line, they play strong defense, get after the quarterback and have plenty of athletes all over the field. They will be a much better football team this year than they were last season but it will very difficult to navigate through that schedule and win nine games again as they did in 2014.

Rice-Eccles Stadium Capacity: 45,017
Rice-Eccles Stadium Capacity: 45,017

2015 Utah Utes Schedule

Sept 3rd          v. Michigan (Thurs)
Sept 11th         v. Utah State (Fri)
Sept 19th         at Fresno State
Sept 26th        at Oregon
Oct 3rd            BYE WEEK
Oct 10th          v. California
Oct 17th           v. Arizona State
Oct 24th          at USC
Oct 31st           v. Oregon State
Nov 7th           at Washington
Nov 14th         at Arizona
Nov 21st         v. UCLA
Nov 28th        v. Colorado

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