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2017 College Football: Pac-12 Conference Preview
By Matt Bram Posted in NCAA on August 25, 2017 0 Comments
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Get ready: the Trojans are back

Last year, things finally clicked for Chris Petersen in Seattle. His Huskies dominated conference play and clawed their way into the College Football Playoffs. This year, they return a lot of what made their team so great. While surprise division champion Colorado has taken losses, USC is poised to compete for a national title while UCLA and Oregon are back on the rise. There are a lot of storylines to watch in the PAC-12 this season.

Here’s what we expect to see play out.

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North Division

California Golden Bears

Last Season: 5–7 (3–6); 4th in PAC-12 North

Post-Season: Did not qualify.

Departures: QB Davis Webb, WR Chad Hansen, RB Khalfani Muhammad

Pressing Concerns: Cal’s mindset is changing from an offense–first team to one that has a defensive identity, but it’s a philosophy that doesn’t get instilled immediately. Through the process, the defense will continue to struggle before it starts getting better, especially with the change to a 3–4 system. Cal was near the bottom in yards given up last season so don’t expect that to improve immediately.

Biggest Strengths: The strength of this Cal team will easily be the offense, but with the departure of QB Davis Webb, even this may turn into a work in progress. Ross Bowers and Chase Forrest are still battling it out in practice for the starting QB spot, but whoever wins the spot will have big shoes to fill.

Offensive Players to Watch: WR Demetris Robertson, RB Tre Watson, WR Melquise Stovall

Defensive Players to Watch: DE Cameron Saffle, DE James Looney, LB Devante Down

MakeorBreak Factor: Cal’s success will be entirely dependent on the play of whoever starts at QB. Despite the shift to a more defensive minded team, the offense will still be its strength this year and will need to score points as the defense learns to be more physical and effective. No one will expect Davis Webb-type numbers from either Bowers or Forrest, but they will need to play well and be efficient to keep Cal’s offense from faltering.

Key Games:

  • 9/16 vs. Ole Miss — Ole Miss is a better team than Cal is, but given Cal’s first six games, this home game may be one of the few opportunities the Golden Bears get to win a game in the early going.

2017 Prediction: 3–9 (1–8). 5th in the PAC-12 North. It’s going to be hard to overcome the loss Davis Webb on offense, and with change in scheme on defense, don’t expect immediate results. Overall, Cal probably isn’t any better or worse than they were last year, and their record will likely reflect that.

Oregon Ducks

Last Season: 4–8 (2–7); 6th in PAC-12 North

Post-Season: Did not qualify

Departures: WR Darren Carrington

Pressing Concerns: The defense was an issue all last season, and despite some changes on that side of the ball, coaching and scheme-wise, it may continue to be an issue before it gets better. They struggled in pretty much all facets of the game in 2016, and in a conference with so many quality offenses, they’ll need to be much better than they were a season ago.

Biggest Strengths: Oregon was 15th in the nation in total offense last year, but it didn’t really feel like it. Offense will definitely be their strength again, but it needs to be more consistent than it was last season. Luckily for them, they return almost everyone of note, especially on the offensive line, so consistency should not be an issue this time around.

Offensive Players to Watch: QB Justin Herbert, RB Royce Freeman, WR Charles Nelson

Defensive Players to Watch: LB Troy Dye, DE Justin Hollins, CB Arrion Springs

MakeorBreak Factor: The overall success of this Oregon team will be dependent on how quickly the defense becomes acclimated to the new scheme and to new defensive coordinator, Jim Leavitt. The offense will be fine, but if the defense can’t stop anyone (again), it’s going to be a long season against the likes of Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, and Jake Browning.

Key Games:

  • 9/9 vs. Nebraska — Week two of the regular season is when Oregon’s season really starts, and it’s a home game against a solid Big Ten team. This will be a good test for a new Oregon defense and an Oregon offense that would like to start its scoring early and often.
  • 10/14 @ Stanford — Stanford will be a strong team, as they almost always are, and if Oregon wants to win the division, a win at Stanford would give them an early leg up in tiebreakers.

2017 Prediction: 9–3 (6–3). 3rd in the PAC-12 North. Expect Jim Leavitt to make a little magic happen with the defense and make them just respectable enough for the offense to bring some wins to the table this year.

Oregon State Beavers

Last Season: 4–8 (3–6); 5th in PAC-12 North

Post-Season: Did not qualify.

Departures: CB Treston Decoud, S Devin Chappell

Pressing Concerns: Can Oregon State’s offense be more efficient through the air? The PAC-12 has several dominant passing offenses but the Beavers struggled in that regards last season. The run game will be fine, but the QB situation isn’t ideal, and without that passing game, Oregon State has very little chance to keep up in the high-scoring affairs in which they’ll be involved.

Biggest Strengths: The run game will be the crutch of the entire team. The defense gave up yards in bunches last season and the passing attack struggled big time. The run game will be important for the Beavers to milk clock as much as possible and keep games as low-scoring as possible.

Offensive Players to Watch: RB Ryan Nall, RB Artavis, Pierce, WR Seth Collins

Defensive Players to Watch: LB Manase Hungalu, CB Xavier Crawford, S Brandon Arnold

MakeorBreak Factor: Not to sound like a broken record here, but everything comes back to the passing attack. If QB Jake Luton can provide a spark through the air, the offense can hope to score points in bunches and maybe outscore their opponents. Without a consistent passing attack, there’s very little hope for Oregon State this season.

Key Games:

  • 9/16 @ Washington State — On the road at Washington State would be a good time for Oregon State’s offense to put it all together and show what they can do. If the team struggles here, expect a long season for the Beavers.

2017 Prediction: 3–9 (1–8). 6th in PAC-12 North. Oregon State’s offense just isn’t there to compete in a conference that is riddled with offensive juggernauts, with their lone conference win coming against Colorado, who might be just as bad on offense as the Beavers are.

Stanford Cardinal

Last Season: 10–3 (6–3); 3rd in PAC-12 North

Post-Season: Won (25-23) in Sun Bowl vs. UNC

Departures: RB Christian McCaffrey, DE Solomon Thomas

Pressing Concerns: Despite a 10-win season in 2016, the offense wasn’t nearly as good as it could’ve been. Now, superstar Christian McCaffrey is gone and the offense needs to find its balance again that it had two seasons ago. The talent is there — the offensive line should be good, the receivers are solid, and even Bryce Love should be a worthy successor of McCaffrey — but it’s now up to the signal caller, most likely Keller Chryst, to bring the offense together and make it as good as it can be.

Biggest Strengths: The defense, as always, will be Stanford’s strength. Despite only ranking 36th in yards allowed per game and losing Solomon Thomas to the draft, the Cardinals bring back almost everyone on the defensive side of the ball. The secondary should be one of the best in the conference, and if the pass rush can produce like it’s capable of doing, then the Stanford defense can become one of the best in the PAC-12.

Offensive Players to Watch: RB Bryce Love, TE Dalton Schultz

Defensive Players to Watch: LB Joey Alfieri, DT Harrison Phillips, CB Quenton Meeks

MakeorBreak Factor: The play of the quarterback position will be the biggest question mark surrounding Stanford football. Keller Chryst is likely going to be the starter, but he may not be ready to play week one as he heals from the knee injury he suffered in the bowl game. This means Ryan Burns may get the start, and he struggled in his time as the starter last season. Unfortunately for Burns, Stanford plays USC and UCLA in the early going, which could mean trouble if Chryst can’t play and if Burns struggles in his spot.

Key Games:

  • 9/23 vs. UCLA — With a loss at USC seemingly likely, this could be a very important game for Stanford to get back on track against an above average UCLA team at home. For Stanford, this will be a good test of their pass rush and of their secondary against a QB like Josh Rosen.
  • 11/10 vs. Washington — Washington handed Stanford a rather humiliating loss last season and the Cardinals will be looking for their revenge. Add that to the fact that this may be a must-win for Stanford if they want to retain hope of winning the PAC-12 North and this has the makings of a great game.

2017 Prediction: 9–3 (6–3). 2nd in the PAC-12 North. 

Washington Huskies 

Last Season: 12–2 (8–1); 1st in PAC-12 North 

Post-Season: Lost (7-24) in College Football Playoff Semifinal vs. Alabama 

Departures: WR John Ross, DT Elijah Qualls, CB Sidney Jones, CB Kevin King, S Budda Baker 

Pressing Concerns: Washington’s secondary lost three players who were drafted in the second round of the NFL draft, and replacing them won’t be easy. The talent is there to fill the voids, but the newcomers are inexperienced and may face some early struggles as they become more comfortable as the starters. 

Biggest Strengths: Despite losing speedster John Ross, the offense is still in good hands with Jake Browning returning as the signal-caller. The offense returns most of its key players and the rushing attack should be better than it was last season. As the defense gets back to the form it had last season, the efficient offense is going to be Washington’s crutch. 

Offensive Players to Watch: QB Jake Browning, RB Myles Gaskin, WR Dante Pettis 

Defensive Players to Watch: LB Azeem Victor, DT Vita Vea, S Taylor Rapp 

MakeorBreak Factor: How quickly the revamped secondary can be brought to pace is going to dictate whether Washington has the same success it did last season. Fortunately for Washington, their schedule isn’t too daunting and there should be plenty of opportunity, especially early on, for the defense to become a strength of this team once again. 

Key Games:

  • 11/4 vs. Oregon — Washington faces a fairly easy schedule this season, and their first trouble game comes in November when they host an Oregon team that is looking to rebound from an abysmal 2016 campaign. The Huskies’ defense will get tested against QB Justin Herbert and an Oregon offense that should be much better than it was last year.
  • 11/10 @ Stanford — On a short week, Washington faces its toughest game of the season on the road right after the Oregon game. This may be a must-win for Washington if it wants to repeat as division champs and make a run at the playoffs once again. 

2017 Prediction: 11–1 (8–1). 1st in the PAC-12 North. Washington should repeat as division champs, but a late loss at Stanford might knock them out of the playoff conversation this year.

Washington State Cougars

Last Season: 8–5 (7–2); 2nd in PAC-12 North

Post-Season: Lost (12-17) in Holiday Bowl vs. Minnesota

Departures: WR Gabs Marks, WR River Cracraft, S Shalom Luani

Pressing Concerns: Washington State lost its top two receivers, but there are plenty of receivers ready to step up and contribute for a pass-first team. Now the question is, can they get a little bit of balance on offense? Luke Falk returns to lead the passing attack, and all their running backs return from last year, but there was little balance outside of a few games. Without some semblance of balance, it’s hard to beat better teams, but that’s what the Cougars will need to find if they intend to make a step up from last season.

Biggest Strengths: The passing attack was great last season, and with the return of Falk, it should be just as dynamic. Marks and Cracraft are gone, but the Cougars are not short on wide receivers to embrace their new roles. Washington State is going to have one of the best passing attacks in the country, again, all thanks to Falk.

Offensive Players to Watch: QB Luke Falk, RB Jamal Morrow, WR Tavares Martin

Defensive Players to Watch: DE Hercules Mata’afa, LB Isaac Dotson, S Robert Taylor

MakeorBreak Factor: The defense was decent last season, but with nine returning starters, it needs to be even better if it wants to be considered a part of the elite PAC-12 teams. The offense is well-suited to compete in shootouts against its conference opponents, but that shouldn’t be the goal for a team that would like to win the division. The Cougars want their defense to be able to get stops on a regular basis, and whether they’re able to do that this season will determine how they fare against their conference foes.

Key Games:

  • 10/7 @ Oregon — Last year, Wazzu dismantled Oregon in a tone-setting win for the Cougars. This year, they travel to Oregon for their first road game of the season, and after a potential loss to USC, Washington State needs to rebound here to avoid further disaster as the conference schedule progresses.

2017 Prediction: 7–5 (4–5). 4th in the PAC-12 North. Wazzu starts the season with five straight home games but then travel to Oregon, Cal, Arizona, Stanford, and Washington in the final eight weeks of the season. The Cougars are better than a seven-win team, but the schedule doesn’t do them many favors as they’ll likely find themselves struggling through conference play this year.

South Division:

Arizona Wildcats:

Last Season: 3-9 (1-8); 6th in Pac-12 South

Post-Season: Did not qualify

Departures: WR Trey Griffey

Pressing Concerns: Whew. Where to start? You’ve got a quarterback situation that doesn’t immediately eliminate Brandon Dawkins, who is as erratic of a passer as they come out west. The team has been littered with injuries over the last few seasons, making any sort of consistency nearly impossible. Their defense returns seven starters, which would be good if they weren’t one of the worst defenses in the country last season. They were particularly horrible against the pass. There is also the concern of starting three freshman linebackers.

Biggest Strengths: When healthy, the rushing attack of Brandon Dawkins and RBs Nick Wilson and J.J. Taylor could be one of the most dangerous in the conference. Taylor is still young, so the Wildcats have a couple more years out of him. The biggest strength for the Wildcats though is returning four out of five offensive linemen. With running backs held back by injuries and a quarterback race that’s lacking in talent, it is imperative that the offensive line remains consistent.

Offensive Players to Watch: RB J.J. Taylor, RB Nick Wilson, C Nathan Eldridge

Defensive Players to Watch: DT Parker Zellers, LB DeAndre’ Miller, LB Jose Ramirez

Make-or-Break Factor: Staying healthy and finding some sort of rhythm is vital to this Wildcat team, who could possibly find themselves playing for a new coach next season. The offense line all has good chemistry but the quarterback, whoever it ends up being, needs to build something. He has to develop chemistry with his receivers and linemen. Even then, if Wilson goes down again or the defense fails to improve then it’s all for not.

Key Games:

  • 9/15 at UTEP – Unless they make huge strides this season, the Wildcats will be fighting for every inch one more. That means they cannot afford to drop this game. Houston will likely be a loss while Northern Arizona will likely be a win. This could go either way and if it doesn’t go the way Arizona wants, it will be a tough trek to match last season’s abysmal record.
  • 11/25 at Arizona State – This is a big one for Rich Rodriguez and his Wildcats. Both Arizona schools were pitiful last season and their coaches are fighting for their jobs this year. It’s the last game of the season and it’s a huge in-state rivalry but at the end of this one, at least one of these coaches could be handed his walking papers.

2017 Prediction: 3-9 (1-8); Rich Rodriguez is going to have to do some soul searching. This Wildcat team is going to be good enough to compete with the bottom of the Pac-12, but I don’t see them being deep enough to win close games.

Arizona State Sun Devils:

Last Season: 5-7 (2-7); 4th in Pac-12 South

Post-Season: Did not qualify

Departures: K Zane Gonzalez, S Gump Hayes, WR Tim White

Pressing Concerns: Go back and re-read Arizona and just switch the running backs with the quarterback. The Sun Devils have an abysmal defense that was somehow even worse than Arizona’s last year. On top of that, they have pretty much no rushing game whatsoever, despite returning their top rushers from last season.

Biggest Strengths: There is some consistency on the line, which is going to be important considering they will likely have a new starter in Alabama transfer Blake Barnett. The defense looks a bit less porous than their in-state rival’s does, so there’s that. Todd Graham is making some moves to secure his job. He’s added Billy Napier to help the offense while giving defensive coordinating duties to Phil Bennett. This change of approach could be exactly what these guys needed.

Offensive Players to Watch: WR N’Keal Harry, C A.J. McCollum, QB Blake Barnett

Defensive Players to Watch: DE Koron Crump, DE JoJo Wicker, LB D.J. Calhoun

Make-or-Break Factor: Who is Blake Barnett? He’s familiar with many of the concepts Napier will bring to Tempe, considering Barnett and Napier both came from Alabama, but how quickly will he adjust to them? If Barnett proves to be a serviceable quarterback, then the Sun Devils can crawl out of the cellar.

Key Games:

  • 9/16 at Texas Tech – A match-up of lower mid-level schools in their respective conferences, the clock is ticking for both of these head coaches. Kliff Kingsbury exciting Red Raider offense will be a huge test for the Sun Devils, one they must overcome if they want to even compete for .500.
  • 11/18 – This is the second to last game of the season and it’s the only conference game I think they even compete for up until this point. Improving their record from last season isn’t looking likely, but they could still come out looking better. A big road win against the Beavers would certainly help end the year on a strong note.
  • 11/25 vs. Arizona – As previously stated, the loser of this game could be sent packing. Todd Graham has a promising young quarterback and has started to assemble a strong set of assistant coaches. Rich Rodriguez is flat lining in Tucson but a win over their biggest rival could be enough to keep him around another season? Where does that leave Todd Graham? He could conceivably be knocked out of a bowl berth from this loss.

2017 Prediction: 5-7 (2-7); Todd Graham is gonna have the same record he had last season, but there will be clear progress, which will be enough to save his job. Blake Barnett shows promise and there is reason to be hopeful about that defense for a change. It won’t be a pretty season, but their trajectory will be upward.

Colorado Buffalo:

Last Season: 10-4 (8-1); 1st in Pac-12 South

Post-Season: Lost (8-28) Alamo Bowl vs. Oklahoma State

Departures: CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Ahkello Witherspoon, S Tedric Thompson, DT Jordan Carrell

Pressing Concerns: There are major concerns with replacing the defense. These concerns look even bigger when you consider Jim Leavitt, the man responsible for putting that unit together, has left for Oregon. D.J Eliot, who did great work in Kentucky, takes over as defensive coordinator this year and has his work cut out for him. The Buffalo lost a set of corners in Chidobe Awuzie and Ahkello Witherspoon and while they have a solid replacement in Isaiah Oliver, the rest of the secondary is questionable. Then there is the defensive line, which is experienced but combines a lack of quality production last year with a new scheme this year.

Biggest Strengths: The Buffalo offense is set up for success this year. Mike MacIntyre has found his rhythm on offense and retained almost every starter from last season. There is a new face under center, but every other skill position starter is back to ease the transition. This group is led by Phillip Lindsay, who doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves. He is a highly versatile back, one that can dominate in the short running game as well as the passing game. His 16 rushing touchdowns last season led the conference and he looks to prove himself in his final year in Boulder.

Offensive Players to Watch: RB Phillip Lindsay, OT Jeromy Irwin, QB Steven Montez

Defensive Players to Watch: CB Isaiah Oliver, LB Rick Gamboa, DE Leo Edwards

Make-or-Break Factor: Does the defense bounce back after having to adjust to so much over the off-season? It would be shocking if they don’t regress but they have the talent necessary to minimize this regression.

Key Games:

  • 9/30 at UCLA – This is a big one as Colorado is trending back down while UCLA is on its way up. This is a crucial moment for the Buffalo, who have an opportunity to get a strong road victory against a division rival. This follows their match-up against Washington, so they will be looking to bounce back. Most importantly, this makes the statement that Colorado is here to stay as a competitive team in the conference.
  • 11/11 vs. USC – The Trojans were their lone blemish within the conference last season. The Buffalo has USC at home this year, which could work to their advantage. Though while Colorado has seen their defense take a step back, USC has had their offense leap forward, so this may be a tough loss to avenge.

2017 Prediction: 8-4 (5-4); The Buffalos are going to be set back from their 10 win season last year. Their secondary took too big of a hit and Colorado is not Alabama. There will be some hiccups as they attempt to fill their holes. But this is still a deep and talented squad capable of competing for a division title.

UCLA Bruins:

Last Season: 4-8 (2-7); 5th in Pac-12 South

Post-Season: Did not qualify

Departures: LB Takkarist McKinley, CB Fabian Moreau, DT Eddie Vanderdoes, LB Jayon Brown, OT Conor McDermott

Pressing Concerns: UCLA is very good at finding ways to lose. The steady stream of NFL talent hasn’t let up under Jim Mora, but the results aren’t coming on the collegiate level. Offensively, they need someone to manage the running game. The Bruins lack a standout running back, which is a problem considering how inconsistent the offensive line is already. The offensive line is another big area of concern. With Josh Rosen returning from surgery, this unit has to be better at protecting their quarterback.

Biggest Strengths: If healthy? Josh Rosen is potentially one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Not Lamar Jackson or Sam Darnold, mind you, but certainly in the conversation with Mason Rudolph and Jake Browning. The defense returns key starters and has never failed the team’s “next man up” mentality so far.

Offensive Players to Watch: QB Josh Rosen, WR Darren Andrews, C Scott Quessenberry

Defensive Players to Watch: LB Kenny Young, CB Nate Meadors, DE Jaelan Phillips

Make-or-Break Factor: The biggest key to UCLA having a successful season is Josh Rosen. Does he bounce back from shoulder surgery? Has he improved at all? Can his offensive linemen do him any favors? There are a lot of questions after the last two seasons, but Jim Mora has the talent assembled to stay competitive in the division — if Rosen is the one under center, that is.

Key Games:

  • 9/3 vs. Texas A&M – A tough matchup right out of the gate for Rosen and company. The Aggies are reeling from key departures like Myles Garrett and Josh Reynolds and Kevin Sumlin’s seat is getting a little warm. The Aggies will be coming out hot and Mora needs to make sure his Bruins are a step ahead. This is a big out of conference match-up that neither team can afford to drop.
  • 10/28 at Washington – The Bruins missed Washington’s dominant Pac-12 run last season but they’re getting it in full force this year. UCLA visits Seattle halfway through the year in a crucial match-up for Josh Rosen. All eyes will be on Rosen as he faces his toughest competition yet. A road game in Seattle against a great Washington defense will be a tough task for the junior. If he plays well though, even if he doesn’t win, his draft stock is sure to climb.

2017 Prediction: 8-4 (5-4); Jim Mora bounces back after back-to-back disappointing seasons. He’s got his usual talented front seven and serviceable skill players. The difference maker here will be Josh Rosen’s health and development. If he stays healthy, the Bruins are a competitive team. If his mental fortitude has improved from his limited snaps last year, then they are a team that can do some damage.

USC Trojans:

Last Season: 10-3 (7-2); 2nd in Pac-12 South

Post-Season: Won (52-49) Rose Bowl vs. Penn State

Departures: CB Adoree Jackson, WR, JuJu Smith-Schuster, OT Zach Banner, S Leon McQuay, DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, OT Chad Wheeler

Pressing Concerns: There is a lot of hype surrounding this team and for good reason. There isn’t a single position on this team that is lacking in a dynamic playmaker. The biggest concern is the offensive line. Sam Darnold didn’t have to worry about that too much last year, but losing three starters is certainly cause for some concern. Then there is the issue of replacing JuJu Smith-Schuster. Though when tasked with replacing a stud receiver, the Trojans have rarely fallen short of that mark.

Biggest Strengths: They’ve got a great player at every position other than offensive tackle. Their defense is loaded with talent and they’ve got a potential first overall pick in Darnold. You can’t escape the raw talent on the team. The Trojans, barring injury, should be able to do whatever they want this season. Look for a lot of teams playing catch-up and struggling for control of the speed of the game.

Offensive Players to Watch: QB Sam Darnold, RB Ronald Jones, WR Deontary Burnett

Defensive Players to Watch: LB Cameron Smith, CB Iman Marshall, DE Rasheem Green

Make-or-Break Factor: It’s imperative that two things happen. Firstly, a weapon must emerge for Darnold to throw to. Burnett has a strong possibility of breaking out this year. The biggest factor though is that offensive line. It hasn’t been a cause for concern as of late, but anytime you lose more than you retain, you’ve got to worry about regression.

Key Games:

  • 9/16 vs. Texas – I don’t think the Longhorns are ready to be put on USC’s level, but Tom Herman is as crafty as they come. There’s a good enough framework in Austin for Herman to come to Pasadena and surprise some people. This is a big time match-up from the two schools responsible for one of the greatest national title games ever.
  • 11/18 vs. UCLA – You never know with this game. It is one of the most bitter rivalries in California and one of the most exciting as well. Darnold and Rosen to close the season is particularly interesting if the latter lives up to his hype, considering both players could go in the top ten in the upcoming draft. The USC offensive line will be tested by the Bruins front seven while UCLA will have a tough time defending Darnold and the Trojans deep set of skill players.

2017 Prediction: 11-1 (8-1); The Trojans are back and the Pac-12, after a brief period of mediocrity, is on the rise. USC will breeze through their conference schedule, though they won’t be immune to a trap game at Colorado. The two top teams in the conference don’t play each other in the regular season and but seem destined to meet in the conference title game.

Utah Utes:

Last Season: 9-4 (5-4); 3rd in Pac-12 South

Post-Season: Won (26-24) Foster Farms Bowl vs. Indiana

Departures: OT Garett Bolles, S Marcus Williams, RB Joe Williams, OG Isaac Asiata, CB Brian Allen, C J.J. Dielman, OT Sam Tevi, DE Pita Taumoepenu

Pressing Concerns: They lost a lot of players last year. They only have one returning starter on their offensive line and a brand new secondary.

Biggest Strengths: Kyle Whittingham is no stranger to adversity or roster turnover. He’s faced tougher challenges than this one before and come out on top. The Utes retain most of their excellent run defense, which is sure to come in handy considering their schedule is loaded with great opposing rushers.

Offensive Players to Watch: QB Troy Williams, OT Salesi Uhatafe, Armand Shyne

Defensive Players to Watch: DT Lowell Lotulelei, DE Kylie Fitts, S Chase Hansen

Make-or-Break Factor: The offensive line was hit the hardest with departures, leaving just one returning starter. This throws the entire offense into question. Troy Williams needs stability and the Utah rushing attack is still working on replacing the dynamic Devontae Booker.

Key Games:

  • 11/18 at Washington – This could be a very interesting game. The Utes run defense is effective enough to give Myles Gaskin a lot of trouble, leaving Jake Browning alone to manage the offense.
  • 11/25 vs. Colorado – It’s a longshot for either of these teams to win the division this season. Coming into this game, they’ll be fighting for second or third place. UCLA is an institution. Colorado and Utah, though, need to constantly prove themselves to stay relevant. This is an important game as the winner will end up finishing one spot above the loser; an important distinction for local recruiting.

2017 Prediction: 7-5 (4-5); Utah’s offense is not talented enough to make up for their utterly decimated offensive line. While they’ll still be good and capable of upsetting anyone in the conference, their lack of consistency up front will be problematic on more than one occasion, keeping the Utes from division contention this season.


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