The Pac-12 Walkabout this week will focus on the Utah Utes. The Utes are the second newcomer to the Pac-12. The Utes have been projected to have a better outlook than the Buffs in this coming season but they also have a very young team. A young team coupled with a new conference could go either way – it could be a breath of fresh air for a program or it could have a disastrous start. It’s really up in the air at this point. It’s a whole new game for Utah – they are moving from the Mountain West Conference, a non-AQ (automatic qualifying) conference, to an AQ conference. They have been used to being supreme in their conference finishing in the Top 25 for the last three seasons. There will be some adjustment in strategy for the Utes and a few answers could come out of seeing a team from a non-AQ team move into an AQ conference. There are also questions about Utah’s ability afford the facilities that the Pac-10 big boys currently have – there is no question that they will start to see more money coming in but does that mean an adjustment period for a few years? The Utes could be looking at an additional $8.3 -$11.9 million per year from Pac-12 Media Enterprises and that kind of money will eventually change a program.
This season the Utes, along with the rest of the South division of the Pac-12, have a bit of a break with the news that USC’s appeal of sanctions has been rejected by the NCAA. This means that USC will not be allowed to play in the Pac-12 title game even if they win the Southern division. For the time being ASU looks like the favorite to win the Southern division but there has been talk of the Utes being contenders for the title.
So let’s look at some of the factors;
Utah lost some talent from last season. They lost both of their top rushers Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata, but they have placed high hopes on heavily recruited running back Harvey Langi. The quarterback position is a questionable one for the Utes with starting QB Jordan Wynn coming off of shoulder surgery. Wynn was not able to participate in much of spring football. Add to that a new offense to tackle with new Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow coming in and this combination could create a questionable start for the Utes even with a healthy and seasoned team.
The Utes secondary started spring ball with four starting positions to fill. At this point it looks as if corners Ryan Lacy and Conroy Black will shine but some gaps still need to be filled here. The Utah linebackers are a strong point this season; they return three starters with Brian Blechen moving from safety to linebacker. The Offensive Line looks shaky this season for the Utes. This group has to deal with a new offensive coordinator and they were struck with an early spring injury to Sam Brenner. Freshman Zac Bolton also went down with an injury forcing him to take a medical retirement.
Utah seems to have some issues with depth everywhere except at the linebacker position. There are still questions about who will fill what spot and there are a lot of young players. A young team is a hard one to make projections about – game-time situations are always different then a practice setting.
The Utes have been projected to finish in the Southern division anywhere from the middle of the pack to a possible division champ. Oregon doesn’t face Utah in regular conference play this season but we will all be anxious to see how the Pac-12 newcomer does throughout their debut season. I’ve been present at Duck games where there was question, but now there will be plenty of time to figure out just what a Ute is (yes I know, but some chants are just hard to forget at those games).
As usual your comments are encouraged – let’s get the discussion going! Next week on the Pac-12 Walkabout AutzenZoo.com will feature Arizona – stay tuned.