- Utah finally has an offense capable of complementing its ferocious defense, and that makes the Utes one of the Pac-12's most dangerous teams.
Our college football 2019 season preview issue is here, which means we're checking in with all 25 teams from SI's official preseason Top 25 ranking. What do you need to know about each of this year's top contenders, from top-ranked Alabama down to Stanford? We'll be rolling out scouting reports for each team over the next two weeks, all of which are being collected here. Next up, it's No. 14 Utah.
THE BIG STORY
For the first time since their move from the Mountain West Conference in 2011, the Utes won the Pac-12 South after finding an offense to complement their ferocious defense, ranking in the top half of the conference in scoring for the first time. The Utes put up impressive numbers despite losing quarterback Tyler Huntley (broken collarbone) and tailback Zack Moss (knee injury) for the final five games of the season. Now both are healthy—and Utah's offense is poised to be one of the Pac-12's most balanced.
Utah has become a pipeline of talent at defensive line, with six NFL draft picks over the last five years. Seniors Leki Fotu and Bradlee Anae are carrying on the tradition. Fotu is a 6'5", 335-pound behemoth tackle while Anae (a Pac-12 best eight sacks) is a pass-rushing force as an end.
The Utes' defense is built around its two linebackers. But who will replace NFLers Cody Barton and Chase Hansen, potentially the best linebacker tandem the school has ever had? Penn State transfer Manny Bowen figured to start for Utah, but abruptly quit the team in late July. Senior Francis Bernard, who has recovered from a shoulder injury, will likely fill one of the roles.
After a decade away from Salt Lake City, Andy Ludwig—Utah's offensive coordinator from 2005 to '08—returns for a second stint with the Utes. The Utah offense made strides last season, but Ludwig, who turned around the Vanderbilt offense at his last stop, has a plan for taking the Utes to another level: by becoming more of a run-first attack, taking advantage of both QB Tyler Huntley's dual-threat ability and running back Zack Moss's power rushing. The offense was humming—with 40 or more points in four straight October games—before Huntley's season-ending injury last year; this season Ludwig, who wants Huntley to call the plays at the line, expects his QB to shoulder even more of the load.
OVER OR UNDER?
Over 8.5 wins. Other than a trip to USC and a home date with Washington, Utah should be heavy favorites in every game. If the Utes beat the Trojans in late September, they might have the Pac-12 South wrapped up by mid-October.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Utes are the clear favorites in the Pac-12 South, but they're thinking bigger: a first-ever trip to the Rose Bowl.