#39 Utah Football 2016 Preview

Utah Utes
Overall Rank: #39
#7 Pac-12
The Utah Utes broke through in 2015 and finished as co-champions of the Pac-12 South Division. However, it was also a season that, in retrospect, was a season of missed opportunities for the Utes. Losses to Arizona and UCLA in consecutive weeks last November kept Utah from making it to Santa Clara and the Pac-12 Championship game. Despite these missed opportunities, it is clear that Utah is going to be a tough out for the rest of the conference on an annual basis.
2015 Record: 10-3, 6-3
2015 Bowl: Las Vegas Bowl vs. BYU (W 35-28)
Coach: Kyle Whittingham (95-46 at Utah, 95-46 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Jim Harding, Aaron Roderick
Defensive Coordinator: Morgan Scalley
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Joe Williams, RB, 477 yards
Passing: None
Receiving: Harrison Handley, TE, 286 yards
Tackles: Marcus Williams, S, 66
Sacks: Kylie Fitts, DE, 7.0
Interceptions: Marcus Williams, S, 5
Other Key Returnees: OL J.J. Dielman, LB Justin Thomas, DB Dominique Hatfield, K Andy Phillips
Key Losses: QB Travis Wilson, RB Devontae Booker, WR Britain Covey, WR Kenneth Scott, DE Jason Fanaika, DT Viliseni Fauonuku, LB Gionni Paul, LB Jared Norris, S Tevin Carter, P Tom Hackett
The entire starting offensive line returns in 2016 for the Utes and that should buy the offensive staff some time to solve some key questions at quarterback and wide receiver. J.J. Dielman will lead this veteran group of offensive linemen that should be able to control the line of scrimmage without too much trouble. Defensively, the secondary is going to have to continue to make big plays like they did last season. Utah intercepted 22 passes, led by free safety Marcus Williams who had five. The ability to create turnovers and set up short fields for the offense is going to be a very important part of any successes this Utes team has this season.
Replacing Travis Wilson at quarterback should be an interesting battle in fall camp. Brandon Cox is a junior who saw a little bit of action in 2014 is in the mix along with Troy Williams, the former Washington quarterback, and true freshman Tyler Huntley. Whoever wins the job will have a reliable running back in Joe Williams to hand the ball off to, but someone has to separate themselves from the pack and take control of the job. The vertical passing game has to get better in order for the Utes to win a conference championship as Utah threw for only 180 yards per game last season. It will be up to guys like Tim Patrick to step up and make big plays along with staying healthy. Punter Tom Hackett is gone due to graduation and his ability to dominate the field position battle with his strong leg is something that will be missed. Mitch Wishnowsky, who is also from Australia, will take over and it will be very intriguing to see how he does.
The Bottom Line:
The Holy War against BYU, along with a visit from USC, highlight the schedule in the month of September. A four game stretch that involves a trips UCLA and Arizona State, along home games with Washington and Oregon will likely determine the success of the 2016 season. If the Utes can go 3-1 or 4-0 in that stretch then they will most likely be in Santa Clara. Overall, look for some growing pains to take place for the offense this season, but by November the Utes should be in the neighborhood of nine wins.
Projected Bowl: Cactus Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 183.0 (46th in nation, 4th in conference)
Passing Offense: 180.0 (106, 11)
Total Offense: 363.0 (97, 11)
Scoring Offense: 22.3 (31, 2)
Rushing Defense: 108.6 (6, 1)
Pass Defense: 258.2 (102, 9)
Total Defense: 366.8 (41, 2)
Scoring Defense: 22.3 (31, 2)
Turnover Margin: 1.00 (4, 1)
Sacks: 2.85 (16, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 1.77 (52, 4)