JP25 - #23 UTAH

After a rough start to the 2007 season (which inexplicably included a blowout win over then-#11 ranked UCLA), the Utes finished strong. If not for a last minute defensive collapse against BYU they would have won their final nine games. That momentum will carry over into the 2008 season as 14 starters return.

Offense- A big part of the reason Utah has a chance to be a BCS-buster this year is because of quarterback Brian Johnson. The senior has suffered through some injuries the last couple years, but if he's healthy he's not only one of the best quarterbacks in the conference - he's one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the nation. He'll get additional help in the passing game with the return of wide receiver Brent Casteel, who was injured most of last season. Bruising running back Darrell Mack returns to balance out the offense. His 1,200 rushing yards will make defenses think twice about simply going after Johnson.

All these skill players will be able to make plays because Utah returns four of five starters on an offensive line that should be the best in the conference. Recently Utah has developed a tradition of excellent line play on both sides of the ball and this year will be no exception. It's also worth mentioning that Utah returns one of the top kickers in America in Louie Sakoda. He's back again to handle both the kicking and punting duties.

Defense- The Utes defense in '08 will be paced by their excellent secondary. After leading the Mountain West by holding opponents to a paltry 183 yards passing per game last year, three of the four pieces return. Free safety Robert Johnson and cornerback Sean Smith are rangy players that can easily take away bigger opposing receivers. Up front the Utes suffer a couple key losses, but return enough players with experience that it shouldn't be much of a concern. Defensive end Paul Kruger made an impact as a freshman in '07 and looks like he might be ready to step up to All-Conference status in '08.

The only real concern on defense is at linebacker, where the Utes have the least experience of any unit on the team. Junior Stevenson Sylvester returns after contributing 86 tackles as a sophomore, but the other two spots are wide open.

Keep An Eye On- The non-conference schedule. The Utes travel to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan opening weekend, and host Oregon State on a Thursday night in October. If they can split those two games, or even win both, they'll be in great shape to make a run at a BCS bowl.

Rising Star- DeVonte Christopher.


Anonymous said...

Shouldn't it be "Pikes' Picks"??

Anonymous said...

if your a grammar teacher.....but this is football not english class.

J.Pike said...

Apostrophes are for wimps.