2009 College Football Preview: No. 22 Utah

Rick GillispieCorrespondent IIAugust 5, 2009

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 02:  Head coach Kyle Whittingham and quarterback Brian Johnson #3 of the Utah Utes celebrates after defeating the Alabama Crimson Tide 31-17 during the 75th Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 2, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Utah comes in at No. 22 in my preseason rankings of the best teams in the country.

With so many skill position players gone, T Zane Beadles is the brightest talent.

Beadles is the anchor of a line that returns three starters and should be a team strength. He is a good athlete who combines quickness and tenacity.

Beadles is equally adept at run and pass blocking, leading some around campus to opine that he's the Utes' best offensive lineman since Jordan Gross, who was a first-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2003.

Impact Newcomer

It could be one of two quarterbacks: junior college transfer Terrance Cain or true freshman Jordan Wynn. Each arrived in time for spring drills, as the Utes are trying to replace Brian Johnson.

And each has the talent to win the job.

Cain threw for 3,138 yards and 29 touchdowns in 2008, hitting 68 percent of his passes at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas. Wynn's skills have sparked comparisons to former Utah star Alex Smith.

RB Matt Asiata played starter-like minutes last fall, leading the Utes with 707 rushing yards. The bullish runner is especially effective out of the "Asiata Formation," which features him getting a direct snap.

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And his 230 pounds make him an effective goal-line weapon. Asiata tallied 12 rushing touchdowns last year. Look for his numbers to grow as the Utes lean on the ground game while a new quarterback develops.

It may sound funny, but Utah could have the top group of receivers in the Mountain West, even with most of last season's top weapons gone.

The leader is the acrobatic David Redd, who reminds many of Steve Smith. Aiona Key is a big target (6'4''), while Jereme Brooks is a slithery weapon. Coaches think highly of redshirt freshman Luke Matthews, and depth appears OK.

The defense unit will revolve around LB Stevenson Sylvester. He capped a terrific 2008 season and set the tone for a big '09 by making three sacks and seven tackles in a Sugar Bowl upset of Alabama.

Sylvester is an underrated athlete with a nose for the ball.

The Utes need cornerbacks, and that's one reason Kamaron Yancey transferred from a junior college in time to take part in spring drills. At 5'9'', Yancy lacks ideal height, but he packs a punch as a tackler and has a knack for coverage. He could claim a starting spot.

There are lots of changes, as both coordinators are new.

Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig first left for Kansas State before landing at California. To replace him, Whittingham stayed in-house, promoting quarterback coach Dave Schramm to the vacant position.

Don't expect a big change in scheme.

When defensive coordinator Gary Andersen left to become coach of Utah State, Whittingham again stayed in-house by promoting Kalani Sitake from linebackers coach.

Still, Whittingham's fingerprints will be all over this defense. Also new to the staff are offensive line coach Blake Miller, who arrives from Rice, cornerbacks' coach J.D Williams, who previously was at Washington, and defensive line coach John Pease, a veteran with 19 years of NFL experience.

Pease had been out of football since retiring from the NFL in 2005.

If Utah is going to come close to duplicating its 2008 success, it will have to pass some early season tests—chief among those is a trip to Oregon. There's also a visit from Louisville.

Mountain West play opens with two road games: at Colorado State and at UNLV. But the tale of the Utes' season figures will be told in November, with games at TCU and at archrival BYU.

Whittingham has turned this into the premier non-"Big Six" program in the country, taking what Urban Meyer began and making it better. In four seasons, Whittingham has won 73 percent of his games, gone 4-0 in bowls, and coached Utah to its best season in 115 years.

No doubt, 2008 was a masterpiece.

Whittingham led Utah to a 13-0 record that was capped by the upset of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and a final No. 2 ranking. Some felt the Utes, as the nation's only undefeated team, should have been No. 1.

The Utes may take a step back this fall, largely because of the loss of Johnson under center. Still, never count out Utah behind Whittingham.

Highly touted recruit James Aiono won't be playing football for the University of Utah this fall.


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