Coach: Kyle Whittingham (85-43, entering 11th season; 85-43 overall)
2014 record: 9-4, 5-4 in Pac-12; fifth in Pac-12 South
Look back: You were right, Utah fans. Proud supporters of the Utes protested when the Orlando Sentinel ranked Utah No. 101 last year, projecting Utah wouldn’t earn a bowl bid after posting back-to-back losing seasons in the ultra-competitive Pac-12. The team opened the year 6-1, including a 26-10 win at Michigan, 30-28 win over then-No. 8 UCLA and 24-21 win over then-No. 20 USC.
The final stretch of the season, however, proved difficult and injuries didn’t help. A missed field goal that helped seal a 19-16 overtime loss against Arizona State was the start of a string of missed opportunities. The Utes had a chance to take a 14-0 lead against Oregon, but Kaelin Clay dropped the ball at the 1-yard line while celebrating and Joe Walker returned it for a touchdown that helped fuel Oregon’s 51-27 win. Wins at Stanford and at Colorado helped send Utah to the Las Vegas Bowl, where it thrashed Colorado State 45-10.
Offensive starters returning: 7
Offensive starters lost: 4
Defensive starters returning: 7
Defensive starters lost: 4
Key losses: LT Jermiah Poutasi, TE Westlee Tonga, WR Dres Anderson, WR Kaelin Clay, DE Nate Orchard, DT Sese Ianu, CB Eric Rowe, SS Brian Blechen
Top returnees: QB Travis Wilson, RB Devontae Booker, WR Kenneth Scott, LG Isaac Asiata, C Siaosi Aiono, RG Saleisi Uhatafe, RT J.J. Dielman, DE Hunter Dimick, NT Lowell Lotulelei, LB Jared Norris, LB Gionni Paul, CB Dominique Hatfield, NB Justin Thomas, FS Marcus Williams, K Andy Phillips, P Tom Hackett
Strengths: Utah is counting on Devontae Booker to build on his 2014 breakout season when he earned first team All-Pac-12 honors after rushing for 1,512 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Booker should get support from a veteran offense line and senior quarterback Travis Wilson, who passed for 2,170 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
The Utes led the nation in sacks (55), ranked second in the Pac-12 in total defense (393.5 yards allowed per game). Linebacker Jared Norris led Utah with 116 tackles and is back.
Weaknesses: The offense lost some of its top receiving threats and young receivers will have to develop quickly to assist a team that ranked No. 93 nationally in pass offense (197.7 yards per game) last season. While Utah doesn’t need a potent passing attack, improvement should give Booker more space.
Outlook: After a bumpy Pac-12 entry, Utah appears to have turned the corner. The Utes have the ingredients for a bowl bid, but they have to improve in every area and deliver flawless performances to make a Pac-12 title run.
Sept. 3 Michigan
Sept. 11 Utah State
Sept. 19 at Fresno State
Sept. 26 at Oregon
Oct. 10 California
Oct. 17 Arizona State
Oct. 24 at USC
Oct. 31 Oregon State
Nov. 7 at Washington
Nov. 14 at Arizona
Nov. 21 UCLA
Nov. 28 at Colorado
College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com