Utah trending up?

Brian Fremeau from Football Outsiders looked at three teams poised to close the gap between themselves and the rest of their league in 2013 -- and Utah is on his list.

The Utes will be starting their third season in the Pac-12 following a dominant run in the Mountain West. However, the team finished 5-7 in 2012 and failed to reach a bowl game for the first time in nine years. But Fremeau sees them as a team that could be on the rise.

From the story:

Over the last two seasons in the Pac-12 South Division, the Utes have won only seven of 18 league games. But USC and UCLA are the only other teams in its division that rank higher in terms of total program recruiting over the last five seasons, so the talent is in place to take a step forward this year.

The Utah defense was effective last year, but has room to improve with seven returning starters. Utah allowed only 8 percent of opponent drives to average 10 yards per play or more, 18th-best nationally. It's the offense that needs to step up its game in a big way this year.

And the Utes made a significant move toward fixing those offensive woes with the addition of Dennis Erickson as co-offensive coordinator. Travis Wilson will get an entire off season as the primary quarterback, which should help him mature into the role. Last year he completed 128 of 204 passes (62.7 percent) for 1,311 yards with seven touchdowns and six interceptions. He also added a pair of touchdowns on the ground.

With Erickson in place to help mentor him (and co-offensive coordinator Brian Johnson), the hope is that the Utes can field an offense that will help take some pressure off the defense -- which lost some key players but should still be solid again. Last year the Utes had the worst passing offense in the league.

They are in a South Division that appears up for grabs with defending division champs UCLA again looking strong, USC boasting the Biletnikoff award winner, Arizona returning the nation's leading rusher and ASU entering the year with one of the best defensive lines in the league (to go with a pretty good offensive attack). Plus Utah adds Oregon and Stanford to the schedule this season -- so if they are going to make a run, they'll have to go through the league's top teams to do it.