2010 Utah Preview
Utah C Zane Taylor
Both on and off the field, Utah has been the leader in the fight for non-BCS teams to be a bigger part of the BCS equation. Will this year's team be good enough to get to one of the big games for the second time in three years? The schedule certainly says so. Check out the 2010 CFN Utah Preview.
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Now we get to really see if there's staying power.
Head coach: Kyle Whittingham
6th year: 48-17
Returning Lettermen: 49
Off. 22, Def. 24, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 24
Ten Best Utah Players
Top Ten Players
1. RB Matt Asiata, Sr.
2. RB Eddie Wide, Sr.
3. C Zane Taylor, Sr.
4. OG Caleb Schlauderaff, Sr.
5. CB Brandon Burton, Jr.
6. DT Dave Kruger, Soph.
7. QB Jordan Wynn, Soph.
8. WR Jereme Brooks, Sr.
9. PK Joe Phillips, Sr.
10. P Sean Sellwood, Soph.
Sept. 2 Pitt
Sept. 11 UNLV
Sept. 18 at New Mexico
Sept. 25 San Jose St
Oct. 2 OPEN DATE
Oct. 9 at Iowa State
Oct. 16 at Wyoming
Oct. 23 Colorado State
Oct. 30 at Air Force
Nov. 6 TCU
Nov. 13 at Notre Dame
Nov. 20 at San Diego St
Nov. 27 BYU
Ever since the extremely disappointing 5-6 2002 season, Utah has been fantastic going 71-19 over the past seven years with two unbeaten campaigns and seven bowl wins. By almost any measure the program has become a powerhouse, doing enough to allow Washington D.C. to take a look at the BCS system and to become a key part of the expansion discussion as potentially part of the Pac 10 or the Big 12. So with all the success, now the team is trying to be at a whole other level of consistency.
There's staying power, and there's staying at the top power. Utah will come up with another winning season, it'll go to another bowl game, and it'll be deep in the hunt for the Mountain West title again, but with two double-digit win seasons in a row and proven victories over the big boys like Alabama, California, and Oregon State, just coming up with a nice year isn't really enough. Utah has amassed the talent and it has the attitude and the coaching to really and truly play with the top teams, but this season will put the program to the test.
The offense wasn't all that consistent last year, and it scored 92 fewer points than in 2008, but it was solid and it should be terrific this season with eight returning starters, four starters back on the line, a loaded backfield, and speed at receiver. If Jordan Wynn progresses into the quarterback many are thinking he can become, the O will be more than fine.
The special teams should be among the best in the nation if there's a little bit more production from the coverage teams. Kicker Joe Phillips is automatic and punter Sean Sellwood will be on the short list for the Ray Guy away, while Shaky Smithson is a speedster to make the return game shine.
On offense and special teams alone, Utah will be good enough to win at least eight games and come up with another strong year, but to have a BCS-caliber campaign, the defense will have to live up to the program's reputation.
It has gotten to the point where it's just assumed Utah will come up with a great defense after failing to allow more than 289 points in a year since 1996, and while this year's group will be fine, it's going to take a few surprises to be special. There's lightning speed at corner, but the safeties are a bit of a question mark. The line has a few potential all-stars, outside of possibly Dave Kruger, there isn't a true standout. The real question, though, will be the linebacking corps made up of try-hards and high-motor guys after losing the potential anchor, Nai Fotu, to a torn ACL.
Can it all come together to mean a second Mountain West title in three years and a possible BCS bid? The bar has been set, and if this year's team can get over it again, then it really and truly will mean that the program has achieved an elite, not-rebuild-but-reload, status.
What to watch for on offense: Matt Asiata. Utah was able to win ten games with timely offensive play, the emergence of Eddie Wide into an all-star running back, and the play of Jordan Wynn down the stretch including a tremendous performance against Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl. But the attack finished 54th in the nation in yards and was never consistent. With a loaded line full of veterans, enough speed to get by at receiver, and Wynn leading a good group of quarterbacks, the pieces are there to do more. The play will go to a whole other level if Matt Asiata really is back and healthy after tearing up his knee last year, and if nothing else, he'll be a thumping back to complement the speed and quickness of Wide and the bull-rushing of Sausan Shakerin to give the Utes one of the nation's most dangerous ground attacks, while taking all the pressure and heat off of Wynn.
What to watch for on defense: The linebackers. The secondary will be excellent and the line will get a push into the backfield, but against all the Mountain West spread attacks and with the good backfields of Iowa and Pitt to deal with (not to mention whatever Notre Dame comes up with), the linebackers have to be solid. Gone are Stevenson Sylvester and Mike Wright after they finished 1-2 respectively in tackles combined for 160 stops and ten tackles for loss, and gone is Nai Fotu, a lineman who was going to take over in the middle before suffering a knee injury this offseason. Now, there's a former quarterback (Chad Manis), several former walk-ons, and several other unproven players trying to fill in the holes.
The team will be far better if … the offense can be better on third downs. The Utes finished 72nd in the nation in third down conversion percentage connecting on just 71-of-187 chances. While they converted 37.97% of the time, BYU led the nation at 55.62%. The Ute defense isn't going to be as good as last year so the more the offense can keep the chains moving, the better.
The schedule: When the hardest expected road trip is to either Air Force or Notre Dame, the schedule isn't all that bad. There are just enough big games in bright lights to put Utah in the national title debate if it can get through unscathed. A statement can be made right away against a Pitt team that's good enough to win the Big East championship. Two other big non-conference dates at Iowa State and Notre Dame look impressive, but if the Utes are as good as they're supposed to be, those are winnable. While there are two semi-tough conference trips to Wyoming (which comes at the end of a run of three road games in four weeks) and Air Force, the big boys, TCU and BYU, have to come to Salt Lake City.
Best offensive player: Senior RB Matt Asiata. He started the season as one of the nation's best running backs tearing off 330 yard and four scores in three and a half games before hurting his knee. It happened in late September, and while it usually takes at least a year to get back from an ACL injury, he's expected to be a top inside pounder once again. Not needed as a 36-carry workhorse with other great options, he should be extremely effective getting 10-to-15 carries as part of a rotation like he was in 2008.
Best defensive player: Junior CB Brandon Burton. Overshadowed last year by other top defensive players including FS Robert Johnson and SS Joe Dale, Burton still came up with a great year making 47 tackles with a sack, an interception, and ten broken up passes. Now the 6-0, 185-pound speedster will have the spotlight on with good size, next-level wheels, and the potential to be a strong No. 2 NFL corner. He's the shutdown defender who'll get the call to erase everyone's top target, and he should be able to do it.
Key player to a successful season: Junior LB J.J. Williams. Stevenson Sylvester was the emotional tone-setter for the defense leading the way with 81 stops with two sacks, an interception, and five tackles for loss. He was a top all-around playmaker at the Rover position, and now it'll be up to Williams, a 6-0, 220-pounder to shine and be the same type of producer. He made 20 tackles last year, but he didn't show enough burst into the backfield. This year, he'll be the focal point of the linebacking corps making him the focal point of the reloading defense.
The season will be a success if … the Utes win the Mountain West title. It's a lofty goal considering there are several question marks, but with TCU and BYU at home, there's no reason to shoot for anything lower. Anyone who's good enough think about winning the Mountain West should be able to handle Air Force and Wyoming on the road.
Key game: Nov. 6 vs. TCU. The BYU battle is always the biggest date on the slate, but Utah can't win the Mountain West without beating TCU at home. The Horned Frogs won last year in a 55-28 obliteration, and it took one of the greatest drives in Utah history to win the pivotal 2008 game. For all the great things TCU has done over the last several years, Utah is 3-1 in the last four meetings.
2009 Fun Stats:
- Fourth Quarter Scoring: Utah 101 – Opponents 54
- Penalties: Utah 101 for 900 yards – Opponents 72 for 573
- Fumbles: Utah 31 (lost 11) – Opponents 22 (lost 8)
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