Utah is coming off it’s best season since joining the Pac-12 back in 2011. The Utes got off to an impressive 6-0 start, which included a shocking 62-20 win at Oregon.
They were ranked No. 3 in the country when their perfect season came to an end at USC. They would later lose at Arizona in double-overtime and 9-17 at home to UCLA to finish 5-3 in the Pac-12.
It tied for the top spot in the South with USC, but the head-to-head loss prevented them from going to the title game. Utah secured their first double-digit win season since 2010 with a 35-28 win over BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Utah will head into their 12th year under Kyle Whittingham hoping to build on last year’s results. Oddsmakers don’t appear to like their chances, as they have set the Utes win total at just 6.5 games. Let’s take a closer look at the schedule and roster for Utah in 2016.
|Date||Opponent||Spread (Est.)||Win Chance|
|9/17||@ San Jose State|
|10/15||@ Oregon State|
|11/10||@ Arizona State|
|Estimated Wins: TBD|
*We take the win chance by using the college football win percentage chart for each point spread.
The Utes will have a decent shot at opening up the season 3-0 in non-conference play. The biggest threat to that happening is a home game against BYU, who will be out for revenge.
The biggest game on the schedule for the Utes early is their Pac-12 opener at home against USC. This will be a good indicator of where this team is in 2016. It will also put them in the driver seat in the South.
A loss to the Trojans could be a sign of things to come, as 5 of their final 8 are on the road. The good news is UCLA is the only road contest against a team that had a winning conference record last year. Though I could see them struggling at Cal, Arizona State and Colorado.
Not only does Utah have to play USC at home, they also welcome Washington and Oregon to Salt Lake City. While they have a chance against both teams at home, it’s a tough break drawing 2 of the top 3 out of the North.
Utah welcomes back 6 starters on offense, but will be transitioning to a new quarterback. Starter Travis Wilson has departed and the hope is that junior Troy Williams can fill the void.
There’s reason to believe he can. Williams was a highly touted prospect out of high school. He originally signed with Washington, but spent last year at juco, where he had a 31-4 TD-INT ratio.
The problem with Williams putting up similar numbers is the loss of last year’s top 3 targets. The Utes will be counting on sophomore Tyrone Smith to emerge as the go-to guy.
I’m not so much concerned about the change at quarterback, as I am the loss of Devontae Booker at running back. Booker led the team with 1,261 yards and 11 touchdowns. The next best was Wilson, who had 490 yards and 7 scores from the quarterback position.
That’s a lot of production to replace, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they put up similar numbers as a team. Senior Joe Williams is the frontrunner to take over and he had 477 yards last year. They also have 4 of 5 starters back on what should be one of the better o-lines in the Pac-12.
Utah’s recipe for success in 2015 was a strong running game and dominant defense. The Utes held opponents to just 22.3 ppg and 367 ypg. Only Washington allowed fewer points/game in the Pac-12.
While they get back 7 starters on this side of the ball, they lose 4 of their top 5 tacklers. The biggest question mark is at linebacker. Utah loses it’s two stars in Gionni Paul and Jared Norris. Paul led the team with 117 tackles and Norris was 2nd at 87. The top tackler back is safety Marcus Williams, who had just 66.
The rest of the defense looks to be in good shape. Utah should have one of the best defensive lines in the conference. They have three potential stars returning. They have two dominant defensive ends in Kylie Fitts and Hunter Dimick. They also get back 1st-Team All-Pac-12 defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei.
Williams will anchor a secondary that only has to replace strong safety Tevin Carter. Last year the unit only allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 54% of their attempts. Their best mark since 2009.
Regular Season Win Total
Pac-12 South Odds
Pac-12 Championship Odds
National Championship Odds
Odds Courtesy of 5Dimes
*Odds updated live on our college football odds page
My biggest concern with picking Utah so low is they are going to be very strong in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Typically that’s a recipe for success. However, I have major concerns with the offense having to replace both Wilson and Booker. The same thing with the defense losing their two stars at linebacker.
Another thing that has me down on Utah is the schedule. The Utes have to play 5 road games this year instead of just 4. I know the majority are against teams who struggled in 2015, but winning on the road in the Pac-12 is never easy.
They also have 3 of their 4 home games against 3 of the best teams in the Pac-12 in USC, Washington and Oregon. There’s potential for Utah to prove me wrong and win the South, I just don’t see it happening.
Win Total Prediction