Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham (5th Season)
2008 Record: 13-0 (Mountain West champs; beat Alabama 31-17 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl)
* = Key game that could go either way
9-3 Utah State (Thurs.) (W)
9-12 @ San Jose State (W)
9-19 @ Oregon (L)*
9-26 Louisville (W)
10-10 @ Colorado State (W)
10-17 @ UNLV (W)*
10-24 Air Force (L)
10-31 Wyoming (W)
11-7 New Mexico (W)*
11-14 @ TCU (L)*
11-21 San Diego State (W)
11-28 @ BYU (L)*
Projected Record: 8-4
OFFENSE (4 Starters Returning)
Brian Johnson leaves Utah with the most wins as a starter at QB. Although Johnson had his share of struggles, his experience and success will be tough to replace. Coach Kyle Whittingham has three players that will continue into spring vying for the starting spot. The player with the most experience is Corbin Louks a junior who has been a change-of-pace Quarterback thus far in his time at Utah. Terrance Cain a JC transfer who set Junior College records for yards and attempts at pass-happy Blinn C.C. Cain is compared as the next Brian Johnson in Utah’s offense. Then in the spring game, early enrollee out of Oceanside H.S. (California) Jordan Wynn had an impressive Spring and coaches feel this a three-man race. Whittingham has compared Wynn to a younger version of former Utah Ute and NFL Draft Bust Alex Smith.
At Running Back, Darrell Mack leaves but Matt Asiata remains who split reps with Mack last season. Asiata now needs to prove himself as the go-to back.
Behind Asiata, is junior Eddie Wide who has seen limited time the past two seasons in the Utah offense, he will see increased reps this season. Along with Wide is a 2008 signee who was highly recruited in Sausan Shakerin who was a Player of the Year in the state of Utah back in 2006 out of Alta High School.
Utah should still be productive in their backfield but there is a lot of question marks going into the fall with this group that it’s got to be one of Whittingham’s main concerns going into the season.
The Utes lost three senior Wide Receivers from their Sugar Bowl team a year ago in Brent Casteel, Bradon Godfrey, and Freddie Brown who was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 7th Round of the Draft.
Replacing them is a group of players that the Utes staff feel will be more athletic and talent than last season’s in senior David Reed, junior Jereme Brooks, and senior John Peel. All three have experience in the program. JC transfer Shaky Smithson could have a impact this season after a strong Spring. The problem with all these receivers is that if the Quarterback situation doesn’t get settled who is going to get them the ball?
Tight End is a position the Utes hardly use but they have an experienced player returning this season in senior Chris Joppru.
Offensive Line (Strength)
Three of Utah’s four returning starters on the Offensive end come in the offensive line. Left Tackle Zane Beadles anchors it all, a 1st Team All-MWC selection a season ago. Along with Beadles on the left side is Caleb Schlauderaff a starter for the past two seasons; will be a junior heading into 2009.
The third starter returning is Zane Taylor who played Center a season ago, but is switching to right guard due to expected starter Neil A’asa struggling with injuries. Replacing Taylor at center will be senior Tyler Williams and Tevita Stevens. They will continue to battle it out into the fall.
At right tackle, this is was one of the question marks for the Utes heading into spring practice with the departure of all-conference performer Dustin Hensel. Tony Bergstrom a sophomore had a very good spring practice and established himself as the #1 guy at RT going into ’09.
DEFENSE (7 Starters Returning)
Utah has to replace one of Whittingham’s right-hand men in former DC Gary Andersen who took the head coaching position at Utah State. Replacing Anderson is Kalani Sitake, who has no experience as the Coordinator. Expect Whittingham to get in touch with his old DC ways and assist Sitake along the way.
Defensive Line (Strength)
Paul Kruger left the program early after his Sophomore season to go pro, he was drafted in the 2nd round by the Baltimore Ravens. Replacing him is Derrick Shelby who is moving from the interior of the 4-man front to the edge. Along with Shelby on the edges is returning starter Koa Misi a two-year starter from the Right End spot. Kruger’s younger brother Dave Kruger is a redshirt Freshman who is listed on the two-deep. A guy to watch is Nai Fotu who was a starter at the STUD Linebacker last season but had a season-ending knee injury against TCU. He is now being switched to DE.
The Utes also expect big things from #1 JUCO recruit James Aiono out of Snow College to make an impact right away when he arrives in the summer.
In the interior will be returning starter Kenape Eliapo and Lei Talamaivo. The Utes have one of the best defensive lines in the Mountain West this season.
Stevenson Sylvester will get all the attention from his little pose in the Sugar Bowl last season, but the most productive linebacker in Utah’s linebacking group is senior Mike Wright who was a former Walk-On. Complimenting the two returning starters in Wright and Sylvester will be Kepa Gaison at the STUD spot. Gaison replaced Nai Fotu after he went down with an injury against TCU. Gaison finished the season strong with a 12-tackle performance in the Sugar Bowl.
Utah’s front seven will probably the top rated group in the Mountain West heading into ’09.
The Utes have to replace two NFL draftees at the Cornerback position in Sean Smith (2nd Round, Dolphins) and Brice McCain (6th Round, Texans). Both of the replacements have been in the program, but it will be hard to replicate the production Smith and McCain had the past two seasons as the starters.
Brandon Burton and senior R.J. Stanford will be the starters against Utah State in Game 1, but watch for Kamaron Yancy who was a mid-year JC enrollee who had a solid spring and could see many reps this season.
With the concern in the corners, the Safeties are one of the Utes strengths in Robert Johnson (FS) and Joe Dale (SS) both of whom are two-year starters at their positions and Senior leaders on the team.
The nickel will be played by Damilyn Tanner who was a highly-regarded JC transfer when he signed last season but hasn’t been able to see much time. He’s another possibility at the cornerback position.
SPECIAL TEAMS (Concern)
Louie Sakoda a.k.a. “King Louie” according to the Utah’s Student Body (“MUSS”) will be sorely missed. Sakoda handled the place kicking and punting duties and was clutch for the Utes in many close games last season.
Looking to replace Sakoda at place kicker is senior Ben Vroman who has handled the kickoff duties the past three seasons. He was very inconsistent in spring so other players in Joe Phillips a JC transfer who is only a sophomore and walk-on Coleman Petersen have a shot to take over in the Fall.
Punting duties will be handled by Sean Sellwood a redshirt freshman.
The Utes return game could be explosive with speedy return men in Luke Mathews at Punt returner and David Reed and Elijah Wesson on Kickoffs. The Utes had many issues with fumbles in the return game last season and they should improve on that from last season.
Utah had a very good win against a Alabama who by all accounts was very overrated to begin with, but Utah capitalized on their big moment and finished the ’08 season as the only undefeated team in College Football.
Don’t expect BCS Busting happening up in Salt Lake City this year. Utah is going to go through some struggles.
This Utah team should be very similar to what Utah fans were used to when Ron McBride was the coach for many years. A gritty defensive team and an inconsistent offense that got the job-done but it was done in ugly, grind it out-type fashion. I’m expecting that in 2009 from Utah.
An 8-4 season would be a solid year after the amount of losses they had, and its very attainable considering the Mountain West as a whole will be taking a step back from their record setting season a year ago. So the Utes should still be in the Top 3 or 4 of the league, and have another shot in a bowl game to increase their streak of 8-straight bowl victories which is the longest current streak in all of College Football right now.
Three outright Mountain West Conference titles for the Utes in the past six years. Prior to 2003's outright title, it had been 46 years since Utah won an outright title.
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