College Football Preview: The 2014 Utah Utes
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2014 College Football Preview
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Overview: For the second straight season, the Utah Utes finished with a 5-7 record and missed a bowl appearance. Many were once criticizing head coach Kyle Whittingham for not being able to get Utah over the hump, now you can’t help but wonder if his job is on line heading into this season. The Utes lost five of their last six games and their only two conference victories came against lonely Colorado and a shocking win over Stanford. Utah could have easily reached a bowl game with a bounce here or a bounce there, but something is telling me the fan base is sick and tired of falling just short.
Offense: Utah has an interesting quarterback situation, as Travis Wilson’s injury history may prevent him from getting the starting job. Wilson suffered a hand injury last year and a concussion that continues to be monitored throughout the offseason. This opens the door for Kendal Thompson, who was a transfer from Oklahoma and came to Utah to start. Regardless of the quarterback, running back James Poole returns after leading the team with more than 600 yards and over a 4.0 yards per carry average. Utah also has one of the more underrated wide receivers in the country in Dres Anderson, who averaged more than 18 yards per catch last season. Utah’s offense should be a lot more explosive under the quicker temp of new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. The Utes just need to find their starting signal-caller.
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Defense: Utah is going to miss defensive lineman Trevor Reilly, who led the Utes with nine sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. To make matters worse, linebackers Gionni Paul and Jacoby Hale were injured in spring drills and there’s no timetable for a return. This is a Utah defense that struggled long stretches without making the big play, so others must step up to help fans forget about their absence. Jason Whittingham returns as Utah’s second leading tackler and Eric Rowe is a versatile defensive back who may move to cornerback after playing safety last season. Uaea Masina is also a promising young player who can give Utah’s defense a little kick in the behind. Utah has relied on its defense to keep its head above water in the Pac-12. It must get healthy and develop some of its younger players if that’s going to be the case again the year.
Special Teams: Andy Phillips returns as the field goal kicker after making 17 of his 20 attempts last season, and punter Tom Hackett returns after averaging more than 43 yards per kick.
Outlook: Utah was competitive last season and should feel confident that it can remain just that in a loaded Pac-12. The issue is that the Utes fan base has to be growing a little impatient and wanting a little more than moral victories. A bowl appearance would be a huge confidence boost for this program. However, road games against Michigan, UCLA, Oregon State, Stanford and Arizona State make that goal tough to even imagine. I’m not sleeping on the Utes, but they have their work cut out for them if they’re going to improve on last season’s four-win total.