Pac-12 Football: How the University of Utah Utes Will Win the South Next Year
Entering the final week of conference play, the University of Utah still had a chance to win the Pac-12 South.
Call it parity; I call it absurdity.
Welcome to the strange world of the Pac-12.
After starting 0-4 in their new conference, the Utes were left for dead. Their starting QB was out for the year, and they were no longer playing cupcake teams like New Mexico or UNLV.
But, they stepped up to the challenge, with four consecutive victories. The only team standing in their way was fellow newcomer Colorado, who had not won a road game in years.
The metaphorical apple dangled in front of them begging to be plucked from the metaphorical tree. They swiped at it, but missed as Colorado pulled out on top 17-14.
Needless to say, that apple dropped, bruised and somehow rolled into the hands of a 6-6 UCLA Bruins team.
Once again, welcome to the strange world of the Pac-12.
Now, along with the many Ute fans, I look forward to next year with much optimism.
Here is my earlier-than-early preview.
Avoid Stanford? Check.
Avoid Oregon? Check.
Avoid USC? Not so fast.
As a welcome gift from the gods, the Utes will not have to play Stanford or Oregon during their first two season in the BCS conference.
They will, however, have to play USC. And they must beat them this time around.
A victory is dependent upon a lot of things—and by "a lot of things", I mean only one thing: the departure of Matt Barkley.
The tall task of defeating the Trojans would quickly shrink into a medium-height task, should he forgo his senior year to enter the NFL Draft.
Regardless, it is never easy to beat USC, both in the recruiting battle and on the field. They always prove a difficult match.
Next year, though, the Utes will have the benefit of playing them in Rice-Eccles Stadium where they have experienced much success.
Don’t overlook the whole revenge aspect. In their inaugural game of the Pac-12, the visiting Utes came within a last-second field goal of tying USC.
With the home crowd cheering them on, expect Utah to come out ready to play, and don’t be surprised if they are victorious.
Upgrade at Quarterback
Let me start this off with a sincere “thank you” to current QB Jon Hays.
He stepped into a tough situation and did an above-adequate job, which turned out to be better than most expected.
Hays made a few good throws, but his best highlights were handoffs to star running back John White IV. I applaud his overall ability to limit the mistakes, while earning a 5-3 record as starter.
But, barring a minor miracle (say, a genie transforming Hays into Aaron Rodgers), he will not be the starter next season. Even the oh-so-fragile Jordan Wynn gives the team a better chance of winning.
Despite that, Wynn is not the one either to help the Utes leap from middle-of-the-pack to contender.
No, no, no, no, no, no. No.
The QB I have in mind is currently enrolled in high school, probably sleeping through a biology lecture as you read this.
Of next year’s incoming recruits, the highest-rated are both quarterbacks: Chase Hansen, of Lone Peak HS in Utah, and Travis Wilson, of San Clemente [CA] HS.
They are talented and ready to step in and contribute. My dollar-store crystal ball tells me they will all battle it out for that top spot on the depth chart.
And my money is on the newcomers.
John White IV
Ask most college football fans around the country about John White and, sadly, they’ll respond "Who?"
Then, ask coaches in the Pac-12 about the Utes running back, and watch fear mask their face.
Listed at a generous 5-9 and an even more generous 190 pounds, White is small in stature but runs big. He wears down defenses in a Jerome Bettis-like way, as some of his longest runs have occurred well into the 4th quarter.
In his first year at Utah, he rushed for 1404 yards, 14 TDs (tying for the single-season record), and averaged about 5 yards a carry. This was all done while opposing defenses focused solely on him, stacking 8 and sometimes 9 in the box.
Pretty remarkable if you think about it.
His performance has sparked a debate as to whether he might be the best back ever to play at Utah.
What was once a concern entering the season quickly became the most reliable thing on offense. That question mark is now an exclamation point.
He'll be back next year ready to become a household name.
Tell that to the Pac-12 coaches and watch their reaction.
Nuthin' but a 'D' Thang
Watching the Utes this year, I was generally more entertained when their defense was on the field.
That’s not a knock on the offense. The defense was just that good.
Okay, I'll admit that was a slight knock, but the defensive stats back it up as well.
19.7 points per game: No. 1 in the Pac-12.
342.8 yards total defense: No. 3 in the Pac-12.
97.0 rushing yards per game: No. 2 in the Pac-12.
Pass defense efficiency: No. 1 in the Pac-12.
19 interceptions: No. 1 in the Pac-12.
See, I told you they were a talented bunch—and young, too, with seven underclassmen in the starting lineup.
The player to watch is strong safety/linebacker/anywhere Brian Blechen.
A highly-recruited QB out of high school, the coaches moved him to safety his freshman year. The switch paid off immediately, as he made the game-clinching interception in his first ever collegiate start.
Blechen would then go on to appear on several postseason Freshman All-American lists. This year he played multiple positions, eventually returning to man the safety spot.
Basically, you could put the guy anywhere on the field and he’ll find a way to make plays. He’s a football player.
This defense will keep them in every game and even win a few. Just watch and be entertained.
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