The first question I have for the Utah fan is what is a Ute? Once we get past the mystery of a Ute we can start talking about their consistency. Utah has been one of the best programs of the past decade finishing with a winning record in each of the last eight seasons and this is why they are the subject of today’s 99 Things. The Utes are the reigning champion of the Pac-12 and are looking to defend their title this season. Utah has also won their division in four of the past seven seasons.
The Utah offense has the potential to be one of the best in the country due to the amount of talent and experience returning this season. Quarterback Cameron Rising was a pleasant surprise after losing the initial position battle. Rising went 9-2 as the starter including two wins over Oregon. He came in against San Diego State and he remained the starter for the rest of the season. He also threw for threw for 2,493 yards and 20 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He finished sixth in the country in adjusted QB rating at 84.2. Rising also displayed his ability as a runner totaling 499 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
The Utes have a plethora of offensive playmakers returning five of their six top receivers from last season. Tight ends Dalton Kincaid and Brant Kuithe were two of the top targets on the team last season. Kuithe led the team in receiving yards with 611 yards while Kincaid led the team in receiving touchdowns with eight. The Utes will be looking for a top wide receiver after Britain Covey finally ran out of eligibility after beginning his freshman season in 2015. Devaughn Vele is expected to step up and fill the void left by Covey. Vele is entering his fourth season as a Ute and was the number two receiver last season.
The focus of the offense is likely to be the rushing attack. Tavion Thomas and Micah Bernard return to be one of the best running back duos in the country. Thomas finished last season with an astounding 21 rushing touchdowns which was good for third in the country. Bernard showed his ability in limited carries rushing for 523 yards and averaging 6.0 yards per carry. The pair along with Rising will be one of the best rushing offenses in the country. Defenses will be forced to crowd the line or Utah’s offense will take advantage of opposing defensive lines.
The Utah defense has questions at the linebacker spot after Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell departed for the NFL. Florida transfer Mohamoud Diabate is expected to fill one of the voids. Diabate led the Gators in tackles last season with 89. His experience will be important when filling Lloyd and Sewell’s positions. Cornerback Clark Phillips III is likely to contend for the Thorpe award given to the best defensive back. Phillips was All-Conference second team after finished with 63 tackles, 13 pass breakups and two interceptions last season. His importance to the Utes cannot be understated.
Utah opens the season in Gainesville against Florida which is an important matchup for the Utes. Winning a road game against an SEC opponent would help Utah’s credibility early in the season as many expect them to contend for a College Football Playoff spot. The next important game comes on October 15th when USC visits. Lincoln Riley worked the transfer portal and has increased the level of talent at USC. Winning both of these games would likely result in Utah undefeated heading into November which they would face Arizona, Stanford, Oregon and Colorado. Utah has been a trendy pick to make the playoffs and with the talent on this roster I understand why. Do not sleep on the Utes this fall or they might end up in front of your team.