SCOUTING REPORT The Utah Utes' tasks this season -- to master a new offense and navigate a new conference while meeting now annual sky-high expectations -- might be daunting to some quarterbacks. Jordan Wynn, though, sees the challenges as evidence that "the planets are aligning just right. It couldn't be more perfect," says the junior.After a frustrating 2010 season during which he missed three games, including Utah's 26-3 loss to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl, because of thumb and shoulder injuries, Wynn is eager to run new coordinator Norm Chow's pro-style offense. "I think [it] will suit me better," says Wynn, a pocket passer who spent the last two years in a modified spread. "I'm not a dual-threat quarterback. In high school I ran a pro-style set. It'll be nice to get back to three- and five-step drops."Wynn sat out most of the spring because he was recovering from December surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder. "Even so, he already has complete command of the offense," says coach Kyle Whittingham.Wynn's recovery began smoothly (he started throwing in May without pain), and this fall he will have some familiar targets, including junior DeVonte Christopher, whose 39 catches last year leads all returning receivers, and junior Reggie Dunn, a deep threat who runs the 40 in 4.28. In Utah's backfield three newcomers will compete for touches: freshman Harvey Langi, a high school All-America; John White IV, a slippery scatback who starred at L.A. Harbor College last year; and sophomore Thretton Palamo, a world-class rugby player.The defense will have a similarly mixed bag of experienced and green units. The entire secondary will be new now that sophomore Brian Blechen has moved from strong safety to linebacker. On the other hand the rotating defensive line, always a strength under Whittingham, will draw from six players who have started a total of 48 games, including senior Derrick Shelby, junior Dave Kruger and sophomore Star Lotulelei.The expectations for the Utes in their new universe? "I've heard everything from 'Utah will be lucky if it's not in last place' to 'Utah could easily win the Pac-12 South,'" says senior right tackle Tony Bergstrom. To do the latter, the Utes just need the planets to align.
THE BIG IF Can Christopher and fellow wideouts help Wynn and the new-look offense make a statement in the pass-happy Pac-12?
TELLING NUMBER 0 -- Career field goals and PATs attempted by junior kicker Coleman Peterson, who will assume both duties this year.
KEY RETURNEES Devonte Christopher, WR, Jr. -- Christopher led the team in receiving yards (660) and TD catches (six) last season, but the year ended on a sour note for him: After he tweeted smack about Boise State before the Las Vegas Bowl, the Broncos held him to zero catches in the 26-3 loss.
Star Lotulelei, NT, So. -- The 6-4, 310-pound native of Tonga, who had 21 tackles last year, can both apply pressure and plug the holes. He anchors a fearsome defensive line that Kyle Whittingham calls "the strong suit" of the Utes.
Jordan Wynn, QB, Jr. -- When Wynn was at the helm over the last two years, the Utes scored on 93 percent of their trips to the red zone. He passed for 2,334 yards and 17 TDs over 10 games in 2010, and with his shoulder healed, he should put up even bigger numbers this season.
Brian Blechen, LB, So. -- A four-sport letterman in high school, the 6-2, 222-pound Blechen is proving to be Mr. Versatility at Utah, too: He had 67 tackles and a team-high four picks as a strong safety in 2010 and has moved to linebacker.
BREAKOUT PLAYER Thretton Palamo, RB, So. -- The 6-2, 237-pound walk-on last played football in 2006, but he knows how to break tackles. In '07 he made the USA Rugby team and at 19 was the youngest to ever play in the Rugby World Cup. Last year he led the Utes to the Collegiate Rugby Sevens championship. "He runs exceptionally well," says Whittingham. "He's a diamond in the rough."
TOP RECRUIT Harvey Langi, RB, Fr. -- A 6-1, 216-pound bruiser, he rushed for 4,289 yards and 55 TDs over three years at Bingham High near Salt Lake City, leading the Miners to state titles in '09 and '10. Langi enrolled early at Utah and made his case to start with 63 yards in the spring game.
This team preview originally appeared in Sports Illustrated Presents' Pac-12 Preview.
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