The Utes tailed off badly last season but remain well placed to make a good first impression in the Pac-12. Al Dannity breaks down their prospects.
The Utes open the season with a cupcake at home against Montana State. The free ride ends early however with a road game at USC followed by a trip to Provo for the Holy War with BYU. Home games with Washington, now minus Jake Locker, and Arizona State quickly follow before the Utes close the first half of the year with a non-conference game at Pittsburgh.
A road game against California could prove tricky, with the Bears notably stronger on defense at home than on the road. This is followed by clashes with three teams looking to raise their standing in the Pac-12 hierarchy. First comes Oregon State at home, followed by a road game against Arizona, before hosting UCLA. The Utes close out the regular season with a road game at Washington State and their new ‘rivalry’ game with Colorado.
Jordan Wynn looked on course to be the next great Utah quarterback until he came up against the TCU Horned Frogs late in the season. With 4 touchdowns and 4 picks in his final 4 games of the year, Wynn looked much more human than the player that blazed a trail through the early part of 2010. He leads a veteran line-up on offense that includes 7 returning starters, including both starting tackles from 2010. NCAA Football betting fans know that a vertical Wynn can get Utah wins so having his two chief protectors in place is a huge advantage.
Utah bring back just 5 starters on defense but they include All MWC selection Chaz Walker. He will be joined in the linebacker corps by the vastly experienced Mike Martinez, bringing veteran leadership to the Utes rising stars.
The off-field benefits of moving the to Pac-12 are obvious for Utah but 2011 could be a year of opportunity for the Utes. There are a couple of big factors in their favor this season. Firstly, they won’t have to take on either Stanford or Oregon, the two powerhouses of the Pac-12 North. Avoiding one is nice, skipping both is a big boost in the road to the Pac-12 Championship Game. Their biggest divisional rival promises to be Arizona State. They get the Sun Devils at home, another fortunate quirk of scheduling. The Trojans could present an early banana skin but with USC still banned from post-season play, at defeat to Lane Kiffin’s charges wouldn’t be season-ending. I like Utah to finish 10-2 in regular season play, claiming the Pac-12 South but losing the conference title game before entering bowl season.