2012 Pac-12 Team Preview and Breakdown: Utah Utes
Kyle Wittingham is the longest tenured coach in the Pac-12 South Division. In that time he has racked up a pretty impressive 65-25 record that includes seven bowl wins, with two being BCS bowls. Technically he was a co-head coach for the Fiesta Bowl in 2004 when then-head coach Urban Meyer was preparing to leave for Florida.
The Utes lost their offensive coordinator, Norm Chow, who takes over at Hawaii. The new OC is Brian Johnson, who was the quarterbacks coach here last year. Utah has had a solid defense in recent years which is run by Kalani Fifita Sitake. He has been the defensive coordinator for the last four years.
Both Jordan Wynn and Jon Hays are back at quarterback, so there is experience. They bring in 4-star recruit Chase Hansen and 3-star Travis Wilson, so there is talented depth. Both were on campus for spring, so they have a chance to learn.
The bad news is Wynn is injury prone. Hays was pushed back in spring in favor of the two true freshmen. Both Hansen and Wilson may have supplanted Hays on the depth chart but have yet to take a snap in a game. Wynn will likely be the starter but needs to stay healthy for Utah to really have success.
Utah’s running game is in good hands with John White IV. He was a workhorse for the Utes and led the conference with 316 carries. His 1,519 yards were second n the conference only to LaMichael James.
Utah’s running back depth took a bit of a hit with sophomore Harvey Langi announcing this summer that he will miss the season to go on an LDS mission. Langi was a 4-star recruit who saw time in eight games last year. There are still a number of other backs to help out, but expect a heavy dose of White.
While the receiving numbers weren’t anything too special, it wasn’t exactly the fault of the wide receiver corps. Having to adjust for the switching of the quarterbacks played into it, as well as the exceptional running game. This season, if Wynn stays healthy I expect a huge increase in the passing and receiving numbers. The top six receivers are back.
The Utah run defense was one of the top in the nation, giving up just over 100 yards per game. The defense starts up front with the line, which could be one of the best in the country. They are led by tackle Star Lotulelei, who won the conference award as the best defensive lineman. Flanking him will be Dave and Joe Kruger, brothers to each other as well as Paul Kruger of the Baltimore Ravens.
My main concern for Utah’s defense is the linebackers. It loses Chaz Walker and Matt Martinez, who were the team's leading tacklers. Besides Trevor Reilly, the rest of the linebackers are young. They are talented; I am just not really sure they will be as good as last year. Someone besides Reilly will need to step up.
Utah’s defensive backs could make a push as the best in the conference. Last season they led the Pac-12 in interceptions. All but one starter is back. Safety Brian Blechen is the team's leading returning tackler and tied with corner Mo Lee with three interceptions.
Both the kicker and punter are returning seniors who had fine numbers last year. Coleman Petersen was 25th in the country for field goals. Sean Sellwood was eighth in the nation in yards per punt. Backup wide receiver Reggie Dunn was the leading kick returner and he should continue to do so this year. I am not sure who will cover punts since Griff McNabb has transferred to Southern Utah.
The Utes' debut in the Pac-12 might not have gone as smooth as they would have liked but I think they proved their worth to the conference finishing the year with a winning record, three non-conference wins and a Sun Bowl victory. They were only one of two teams from the conference to win their bowl game.
I have Utah picked as my second-best team in the South Division with a outside chance of the Utes winning it. Really I think everything would have to go just right for the Utes and have everything go wrong for the favorite, USC, for that to happen. But hey, this is college football, anything is possible.
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