The football season is getting closer, and while our Bruins are getting ready for the 2015 season, so is the rest of the Pac-12. So we're taking a quick look around the conference to see how the other 11 teams are stacking up. We posed the same 4 questions to each of our Pac-12 conference mates so we can get to know their team and expectations a bit better, and added a 5th question geared for each school individually. We add some notes on the teams key losses and returns after the Q&A, as well.
We're winding down to the end of our Pac-12 Preseason Q&A series, but first we need to check in with the good folks at the University of Utah. Shane Roberts is the co-managing editor at Block U, Utah's fantastic SBNation site. Shane was kind enough to share his time and insights with us at BN. Check out his thoughts in the Q&A below, and for the best inside look at the Utes, head over to Block U and join in the conversation there.
BN: Who are the players on offense we don't know about, but should?
Shane: The name that jumps out to me immediately to me is true freshman Britain Covey. Covey is a 5' 9", 170 pound jitterbug that will line up in the slot for the Utes. Even Utah's stout defensive players say he is one of the hardest players to hit, because he is so quick and elusive. He caught Coach Whittingham's eye starting on day one of fall camp, and will see plenty of time in the slot and possibly returning kicks. When you look at this you think he's a high school freshman, but he is dangerous in the open field. Also, watch out for JC running back Joe Williams. Williams is backing up Devontae Booker, but will get some reps when Booker needs a blow. Williams is one of the fastest guys on the team (clocking about a 4.3 40 before camp), and once he gets into the open field he's gone. Don't be surprised if you see a player like Williams taking some passes out of the backfield.
BN: Who are the players on defense we don't know about, but should?
Shane: Cory Butler-Bryd is a name to watch out for. A JC transfer that is ready to step in and start a corner back, will help compensate for the loss of Dominique Hatfield. Butler-Byrd is a pure athlete, and could start at either corner or wide receiver, but he's been making some big plays in fall camp and has the speed to stay step-for-step with any wide receiver in the conference. Another name that Utah fans know, but fans outside of the state may not know is Jason Fanaika. Fanaika will be filling in the role that Nate Orchard left open. Fanaika is a heavier than Nate, and may not quite have the speed, but he's more powerful. He will bookend the opposite of Hunter Dimick. I don't expect too much of a drop off from Orchard to Fanaika in the 2015 season.
BN: What game has the biggest circle on the calendar and why?
Shane: Michigan. It's Jim Harbaugh's first game at Michigan, and Utah fans want to get some revenge for our guy Alex Smith. Michigan's first trip to SLC, and their first Thursday night game. Plenty of trash has already been spoked between fan bases, and both the fan base and the players are wanting to prove that the 2014 season was just the beginning for the Utes.
BN: What is your prediction for your season record?
Shane: I'm picking the Utes to go 9-3 this season. I picked Utah to lose to Oregon, USC and Arizona. I think Utah will take another step forward this year, with all the returning talent, and another year of experience. Plus, the Utes have seven home games, which will help quite a bit.
BN: Every year Coach Wittingham, who happens to be the longest tenured coach in the conference, and the Utes pull off some big wins (UCLA, USC, Stanford in 2014) that put them on the verge of a Pac-12 South title, but they haven't quite taken that last step. What does Utah need to do to finally get to that top rung of the Pac12 South?
Shane: Utah's offense has to be at least a middle of the conference unit. If the Utes have had at least a middle of the road offense the last couple of years, their chances of representing the South in the Pac-12 title game would have been very high. Utah may have the best defense and special teams in the conference. If they can just get the offense to step up a little bit, they will take that last step and get over the hump to win the division.
Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham, 10th year
2014 Record: 9-4, 5-4 (conf), 5th in Pac-12 South
2014 Bowl: Beat Colorado State 42-10 in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
Key returnees: RB Devontae Booker (Sr), QB Travis Wilson (Sr), WR Kenneth Scott (Sr), DE Hunter Dimick (Jr), DE Jason Fanaika (rSr), LB Jared Norris (Sr), P Tom Hackett (Sr)
Key losses: DB Dominique Hatfield (suspension), DL Nate Orchard, WR Kaelin Clay, LT Jeremiah Poutasi, CB Eric Rowe, Both the defensive and offensive coordinators from 2014
For all the details on the Utes' depth chart, Block U has every position covered in their football hub here.
AP Preseason Rank: 30
Matchup with UCLA: @Utah, Saturday Nov 21, kickoff tba
Thanks again to Shane and all the gang at Block U. Check out their excellent site here, and follow them on Twitter at @BlockU.