Utah Utes season preview

August, 8, 2013
8/08/13
10:30
AM ET
We continue our day-by-day snapshots of each Pac-12 team heading into the 2013 season in reverse alphabetical order with the Utah Utes.

Utah

Coach: Kyle Whittingham (71-32 overall, 7-11 Pac-12)

2012 record: 5-7 (3-6, Pac-12 South)

Key losses: RB John White, LT Sam Brenner, DT Star Lotulelei, DE Joe Kruger, DT Dave Kruger, KR Reggie Dunn, P Sean Sellwood, K Coleman Petersen.

[+] EnlargeKelvin York
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsKelvin York steps in as the starting tailback, replacing John White.
Key returnees: WR Dres Anderson, TE Jake Murphy, QB Travis Wilson, RB Kelvin York, LB Brian Blechen, LB Trevor Reilly.

Newcomer to watch: The team is still waiting to see whether defensive back Tevin Carter will be eligible. He was once a highly rated wide receiver who originally committed to Cal before transferring to L.A. Southwest College. Juco transfer Sese Ianu from Golden West College is a big-bodied defensive tackle who is expected to compete immediately.

Biggest games in 2013: The Utes will be looking for vengeance against Utah State in the opener on Aug. 29. At BYU on Sept. 21 takes on even greater significance with the Holy War going on break. They also host Stanford (Oct. 12) and travel to Oregon (Nov. 16) for the first time since joining the conference.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Whittingham said that he wasn't expecting Joe Kruger to leave early for the NFL -- and that left an additional void on the defensive front that already had to replace Lotulelei and another Kruger. Tenny Palepoi has good experience and played in every game last year. Ianu should help, and the tentative plan is to toggle Reilly -- last year’s leading tackler -- back and forth between defensive end and linebacker. Nate Orchard and Jason Whittingham will also rotate through, and when those two are on the line, Reilly might play back at linebacker and vice versa.

Forecast: While the line might be the biggest question mark on defense, many are wondering what the passing attack -- which ranked last in the league last season with just 190.7 yards per game (and eighth in efficiency) -- is going to look like with Dennis Erickson now commanding the offense. He joins the staff as co-offensive coordinator alongside Brian Johnson and will serve as the primary playcaller.

He’s been a head coach at six universities and for two NFL teams, and he’s the only person to be the league’s coach of the year at three different schools (Washington State, Oregon State and Arizona State). His offenses know how to move the ball and put up points.

That should bode well as Wilson grows into his role as the starting quarterback. He came in midseason last year and steadily improved each week. With an entire offseason working with Erickson and Johnson, his learning curve shouldn't be as steep.

Kelvin York steps in as the primary ball carrier, replacing White, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher. He’ll have the benefit of what should be an improved offensive line. The coaching staff is high on 6-foot-5, 345-pound left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi and guard Junior Salt.

Last season, Utah’s second since joining the league from the Mountain West Conference, wasn't a pleasant one for Kyle Whittingham, who was never shy about expressing his disappointment. Keep in mind, this isn't a team used to missing the postseason. Before last year’s 5-7 record, the Utes had been to nine straight bowl games with an 8-1 postseason mark. Injuries, which led to inconsistent quarterback and offensive line play, were major contributing factors. At least for now, it appears like those have been sorted out, so marked improvement is expected.

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PAC-12 SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/25
Saturday, 9/27