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Please, pay no attention to Utah until it wins the South next year

Utah is going to win the Pac-12's South Division next year.

Wait. Ignore that. You weren't supposed to see that. That was supposed to be the insider secret that led to the glorious "I told you so!" moment in December. Drat.

Well, if you must know, the Utes are just rougher and tougher up front on both sides of the ball. Other Pac-12 teams talk about being physical, but only Stanford and Utah follow through with four quarters of body blows. The Utes will welcome back 15 starters when they begin spring practices Tuesday, including eight members of the conference's No. 2 scoring defense and five offensive linemen with significant starting experience.

There is, of course, a question. There always is. And for Utah, it's not a new one.

“If we can execute this year in the passing game, we can be right there with anybody," co-offensive coordinator and QBs coach Aaron Roderick said. "And I think we can.”

The Utes can win seven, eight -- even nine or 10 -- games without a strong passing attack. We know this because they've won 19 over the past two seasons and finished with final top-25 rankings while averaging less than 200 yards passing per game.

Utah must replace QB Travis Wilson, a four-year stater, and its top four receivers from last year. That doesn't sound like a good start.

Yet there's plenty of hope that sophomores Tyrone Smith and Raelon Singleton are ready to grow up at receiver, and speedy Cory Butler-Byrd will offer a legitimate downfield threat after moving permanently from cornerback to the slot. The Utes also are high on their tight ends, though Siale Fakailoatonga and Evan Moeai won't be available this spring.

Most folks, however, will focus behind center. Wilson was never an artful passer. He had plenty of want-to, and he threw his body around with abandon when running the ball. He also helped end the "Does Utah belong in the Pac-12?" narrative. The Utes have beaten each of the 11 other Pac-12 teams since they joined the conference in 2011. Can your team say it's done that over the past five seasons (not unless your team is Oregon or USC)?

The chief, big-picture speculation about the program is what will happen when it develops a mature, potent passing attack. Fingers are crossed that JC transfer Troy Williams, formerly at Washington, can deliver an answer to that question.

“Since the minute he got here, he’s been operating like a Pac-12 quarterback," Roderick said. "The step up to this level won't be a shock for him.”

Williams accounted for 38 touchdowns at Santa Monica College last fall after his "alpha dog" personality didn't mesh well with then-new Washington coach Chris Petersen. Williams' chances to grow the Utes passing game should be bolstered by what is almost certain to be a strong rushing attack.

Although RB Devontae Booker is off to the NFL draft, he was capably replaced by Joe Williams late last season after he got hurt, and Roderick is high on his likely backup, Troy McCormick, who was lost for the season last spring with a knee injury.

“I don’t want to say Joe is Devontae Booker, but Joe does some things better than Devontae," Roderick said. "Joe is really fast. He’s got a chance to be a great player, too. And we get back a player named Troy McCormick. We had really high hopes for him a year ago. I thought he was going to be one of our best players last year.”

The Utes will feature the Pac-12's most experienced offensive line, and that doesn't included Garett Boles, the nation's No. 1 JC offensive tackle, who was offered by just about everyone, including Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, USC and Oklahoma.

“We’re going to have seven or eight guys who can play for sure," Roderick said. "Hopefully they stay healthy, but that’s a good group"

It seemingly sets up nicely for the Utes -- if, of course, Troy Williams comes through in a potential "Williams Squared" backfield.

So while many will fall in love with UCLA because of super-sophomore QB Josh Rosen, or USC because it's, well, USC, Utah might just be the money pick in the South.

But, please, shhhh... let's just keep that amongst ourselves.