What you need to know ... Utah's offense should once again
be one of the Mountain West's most devastating thanks to an
improved line, speedy receivers, and a great quarterback
situation with Brian Johnson and Brett Ratliff each good enough
to earn Player of the Year honors. The running game is the big
question mark with no proven experience and operating on a
prayer that gimpy backs like Darryl Poston and Mike Liti can get
through a season healthy. Brian Hernandez leads a very fast
receiving corps that will get better and better as the year goes
Passing: Brian Johnson
210-330, 2,892 yds, 18 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Brian Johnson
152 carries, 478 yds, 8 TD
Receiving: Brian Hernandez
39 catches, 709 yds, 3 TD
Star of the offense: Senior QB Brett Ratliff or junior
QB Brian Johnson
Player that has to step up and become a star: Senior RB
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore OG Robert Conley
Best pro prospect: Senior OT Tavo Tupola
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Johnson or Ratliff, 2)
Tupola, 3) WR Brian Hernandez
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, offensive line
Weakness of the offense:
There's no wrong answer here. Brian Johnson might be the
best player in the Mountain West when he's 100% healthy, but he
still has to prove that he can be the same all-around player
after coming off a knee injury. Brett Ratliff was tremendous in
relief duty late last season and is more than good enough lead
the Utes to the conference title. Oklahoma transfer Tommy Grady
provides a big passing option, and Kevin Dunn is a nice prospect
to work on for the future.
The key to the unit: Brian Johnson needs to be
healthy enough to be Brian Johnson again, or else Brett Ratliff
has to go from being a good unknown to a steady starter. (The
rating is assuming Johnson will return healthy.)
Quarterback Rating: 9
- Brian Johnson, Jr. - 210-330, 2,892 yds, 64%, 18 TD, 7
INT, 152 carries, 478 yds, 3.1 ypc, 8 TD
Considered to be the near perfect prospect to run the spread
offense, Johnson did a great job of replacing Alex Smith
throwing like a seasoned veteran while running well despite
still learning on the fly. He was just starting to blow up with
1,425 passing yards and 11 touchdown passes in a four-game
stretch before tearing his ACL just before the BYU game. He's
not the biggest Utah quarterback, but he's good enough to be a
Mountain West Player of the Year type of performer if he comes
out of this fall, when he's able to return, with the starting
- Brett Ratliff, Sr. - 48-77, 642 yds, 62%, 8 TD, 2
INT, 22 carries, 101 yds, 4.6 ypc, 1 TD
The JUCO transfer saved the day last season when Brian Johnson
went down late in the season. While not nearly the runner
Johnson is, he was still effective with a 112-yard day in the
win over BYU and he was razor-sharp throwing the ball in the
dismantling of Georgia Tech. He's a polished passer with a live
arm and is more than good enough to carry the offense.
- Tommy Grady, Jr.
The Oklahoma transfer had to sit out last year and now will push
to try to get in the hunt for the number two job. He's not a
runner, but at 6-7 and 235 pounds, he has a huge presence, one
of the the best arms in America, and is
a solid passer completing 12 of 14 passes in mop up duty behind
- Kevin Dunn, RFr.
Never able to show what he was able to do thanks to shoulder
problems, Dunn is healthy now and will get a few years to learn
the position while hoping to position himself for the starting
job in 2009. He's a solid 6-3 and 220 pounds with a strong,
It took almost all season,
but Quinton Ganther finally became a steady runner who helped
carry the offense over his final four appearances. Now he's gone
making the running back situation iffy at best with no proven
experience to count on. Former USC back Darryl Poston has the
speed to be a game-breaker, but he has to prove he can hold up
after having knee problems throughout his career. Mike Liti has
had a variety of injury issues, and Darrell Mack, the most
talented back of the group, needs work on blocking and the finer
points of the attack.
The key to the unit: Get a good rotation to keep
everyone fresh. A true number one back hasn't emerged, so this
might be the dreaded tailback-by-committee until someone can
find a groove.
Running Back Rating: 5.5
- Darryl Poston, Sr. - 6 carries, 19 yds, 3.2 ypc
The surprise of spring ball, the former USC Trojan showed that
he's back to his speedy self after his career had gone nowhere
thanks to knee injuries. He got an extra year of eligibility and
he appears ready to take full advantage with the wheels to crank
out big yards in chunks.
- Mike Liti, Jr. - 12 carries, 28 yds, 2.3 ypc, 2
catches, 4 yds
Liti is the power back in the mix, but he can't seem to stay
healthy with a shoulder injury being his biggest problem. He
knows the offense and is a strong blocker as well as a receiver
if he can stay on the field.
- Darrell Mack, Soph. - 39 carries, 147 yds, 3.8 ypc, 2 catches,
13 yds, 4.3 ypc
The team's most talented all-around back, the 6-0, 216-pound
true sophomore saw a little bit of work last season in blowout
finishing as the team's fourth leading rusher. He has a nice mix
of speed and power, but he needs to be a bit sharper in all the
aspects of the offense.
The Utes will be fine despite losing top two
targets Travis LaTendresse and John Madsen. A variety of
injuries to the receiving corps last season allowed several
young players get their feet wet, and it'll pay off with an
exciting group forming around Brian Hernandez. Sophomores Brent
Casteel and Marquis Wilson are fast playmakers who'll each get
the ball in their hands in a variety of ways, while Derrek
Richards brings even more speed. The depth is lacking in a huge
way; there will be problems if injuries strike like they did
The key to the unit: Brian Hernandez has to prove
he's a number one target while the rest of the speedsters have
to explode as expected.
Receiver Rating: 7
- Brian Hernandez, Sr. - 39 catches, 709 yds, 18.2 ypc, 3
Hernandez had a nice season finishing as the team's third
leading receiver despite never being quite right thanks to an
ankle injury. He can be a big play receiver evidenced by a
two-game stretch catching 10 passes for 260 yards against
Colorado State and San Diego State. A smallish, tough receiver
at 6-0 and 175 pounds, he has been around the block and then
some coming to Utah as
a JUCO transfer after starting out at Georgia Tech before going
to Arizona State before moving to Pima CC in Phoenix.
- Derrek Richards, Jr. - 16 catches, 239 yds, 14.9 ypc, 4
One of the team's fastest players, Richards, thanks to his 4.4
speed, was great over the second half of last year turning into
a steady target highlighted by a three-catch, 87-yard, two
touchdown game against New Mexico. He'll be expected to be a
home run hitter now that he's the full-time starter.
- Marques Wilson, Soph. - 9 catches, 149 yds, 16.6 ypc
He was originally supposed to redshirt, but he was forced into
the mix over the second half of the season when injuries hit the
top receivers. He's a nice all-around offensive weapon with
tremendous speed and lighting quick open field moves.
- Brent Casteel, Sr. - Soph. - 39 catches, 426 yds, 10.9
ypc, 2 TD, 35 carries, 208 yds, 5.9 ypc, 1 TD
Mostly used as a possession receiver at the H spot despite his
4.5 speed and great athleticism, Casteel will find a spot
somewhere in the starting mix. He tied for third on the team in
receiving and also finished third on the team in rushing. The
quarterback situation might influence him more than any of the
other receivers; his production fell off the map when Brett
Ratliff took over. He'll also serve as a kick returner.
- Tight end Chris Joppru, Fr.
When Utah uses a tight end, it'll be up to freshmen Joppru and
Lance Bordelau along with defensive linemen Jason Voss, Pate
Moleni and Colt Sampson to be used more as blockers than
- Freddie Brown, Soph. - 2 catches, 43 yds
Brown add some good size to the corps at 6-3 and 217 pounds. He
was a late addition to last year's team and caught on early
getting on the field in the second half of the season with his
big play coming on a 37-yard catch against Wyoming. He's a
smart, athletic receiver playing behind Brian Hernandez.
- Sean Smith, RFr.
Originally a running back , the 6-3, 217-pound Smith will be a
big target behind Brent Casteel after moving over to receiver.
He might not be a game-breaker, but he's far more physical than
the rest of the Ute receivers.
The line should grow into one of the best in the Mountain
West as long as a solid replacement is found for Jesse Boone at center.
Kyle Gunther and Tyler Williams will battle for the spot, but the rest
of the line should be fantastic with All-Mountain West candidates Tavo
Tupola and Jason Boone at the tackles and rising stars Robert Conley and
Zane Beadles at the guards. The top backups arrived from the JUCO ranks
where guard Corey Seiuli and tackle Dustin Hensel are ready to play
The key to the unit: Cut down on the sack total. It's
a bit misleading since the Utah quarterbacks run so much, but the line
allowed 29 sacks last season. The more that number drops, the more the
offense will explode.
Offensive Line Rating: 7.5
- OT Tavo Tupola, Sr.
The former safety has bulked up into a heck of a 300-pound tackle. He
earned second-team All-Mountain West honors last year and should be even
more of a playmaker this season as the team's top offensive lineman. Too
quick on the move for most defenders, he's at his best when he's able to
- OG Zane Beadles, RFr.
One of the team's most promising linemen, the 308-pound redshirt
freshman was a top recruit and proved to be strong enough this spring to
take over the starting job on the right side. He'll be pushed hard all
year by JUCO transfer Corey Seiuli.
- C Kyle Gunther, Jr.
An experienced backup guard, the 302-pound junior will get to take over
for Jesse Boone in the middle after seeing most of his time on special
- OG Robert Conley, Soph.
Conley might have been raw, but he was good enough to push his way in to
a starting job at right guard last season. He's a strong, talented 6-1
and 310 pounds with the potential to be an all-star standout with a
little more time. He's a tremendous run blocker and one of the team's
best weight room performers.
- OT Jason Boone, Jr.
Back as the starter at right tackle, the 300-pound junior bulked up over
the last few years and should be an all-conference performer. He's
extremely quick for his size and is growing as a solid pass blocker.
- T Jeremy Inferrera, Jr.
The Hawaii transfer was able to practice with the team last season and
now will push for time on left tackle behind Tavo Tupola and can play
center if needed. He's 6-3 and 296 pounds with great athleticism.
- T Dustin Hensel, Soph.
A massing 6-7 and 331-pound transfer, Hensel is athletic
for his size and should be a key reserve on the right side as a bigger
option behind Jason Boone.
- G Corey Seiuli, Soph.
At 326 pounds, the mid-year transfer is one of the biggest players on
the line, and that's after getting in better shape. He served a church
mission for two years and then went the JUCO route before getting to
Utah, and now he'll be a top backup behind Zane Beadles on the left