The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 125 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 125 to our projected No. 1 team.
Today at No. 57: Utah
Coach: Kyle Whittingham (71-32, ninth season; 71-32 overall)
2012 record: 5-7 (3-6 in Pac-12 Conference, fifth in South Division)
Look back: It’s been a bit of a rough go for the Utah football program since joining the Pac-12 conference in 2010. The Utes opened up with an eight-win season in 2011, but followed it up with a disappointing five-win mark in 2012. Injuries along with struggles on the offensive side of the ball handed Kyle Whittingham his first losing season since taking over the program in 2004. As a result, Whittingham hired former Miami head coach Dennis Erickson to join his staff as co-offensive coordinator.
Offensive starters returning: 6
Offensive starters lost: 5
Defensive starters returning: 6
Defensive starters lost: 5
Key losses: RB John White, QB Jordan Wynn, DB Reggie Topps, DT Star Lotulelei, CB Moe Lee, DE Joe Kruger
Top returnees: QB Travis Wilson, RB Kelvin York, WR Dres Anderson, WR Kenneth Scott, DE Trevor Reilly, S Eric Rowe, CB Brian Blechen
Strengths: The Utes were dead-last in the Pac-12 in passing offense (190.7 yards per game) and near the bottom in rushing offense (133.8) as well. Enter Dennis Erickson, whose job it will be to inject some life into Utah’s offense with his up-tempo style of play. One of his first orders of business will be the development of incumbent quarterback Travis Wilson (1,311 yards/7 TDs) who played in 12 games last season. Luckily for Erickson, Utah returns its top two receivers in Dres Anderson (365/3) and Kenneth Scott (360/3) along with tight end Jake Murphy (349/4).
Weaknesses: Utah must replace running back John White, who was the school’s first back-to-back 1,000-yard rushers. Senior Kevin York steps into the role after rushing for 273 yards last season in a limited role. … The offensive line returns only two starters from a group that gave up 25 sacks last season. … The defensive line loses three of its four starters including Star Lotulelei, who led the team in tackles for loss (10) and Joe Kruger, who led the team in sacks (6). Nate Orchard (48 tackles/3 sacks) will anchor the line with Trevor Reilly (69 tackles/4.5 sacks) moving over from his linebacker spot. … the secondary is very young and very inexperienced with Brian Blechen (58 tackles/1 INT) and Eric Rowe (64 tackles/1 INTs) combining for 58 starts.
Outlook: Utah’s success in 2013 hinges on how quickly the team can adapt to Dennis Erickson’s up-tempo offense. As a group last season, the Utes were next-to-last in the Pac-12 in total offense, which just won’t cut it anymore especially with programs like UCLA, Arizona and Arizona State making headway in the South Division as well. The schedule won’t be easy with Utah playing four of its final six games on the road including stops at Arizona, USC, Oregon and Washington State.
Aug. 29 Utah State
Sept. 7 Weber State
Sept. 14 Oregon State
Sept. 21 at BYU