Show Notes

Throughout August, we will be counting down the top 25 teams (as listed here) going into the 2009 season. Today we bring it on down to Utahville, where we’ll take a look at the only program to go undefeated twice in the BCS era. Another fun fact:, Utah is the only state in the union to have their nickname centered around the production and storage of honey. I love honey. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Impressions

A case could be made that this has been the Offseason of Utah. You could also consider Lane Kiffin and Tennessee, but it seems like the Utah football program is a central theme in every BCS story and more (or less) importantly, every congressional college football hearing thus far during the offseason. 

Larger stories aside, Utah has done quite well for itself. Its recruiting base isn’t big, but through innovative coaching and steady player development, the Utes have been able to couple quality 7-9 win seasons with special seasons in which they’ve punched some huge teams square in the mouth. 

Utah shares the same ol’ problem that most teams in western states face: exposure. You can only draw so many conclusions without actually seeing games, which obviously can work for or (generally) against non-BCS conference teams with BCS aspirations. 

As a west coast football fan, very few things have been more satisfying to watch than Utah dismantling a pouting Alabama team in the Sugar Bowl. Do you hear that ringing? John Parker Wilson still does. 

Last Year

Undefeated. Plain and simple, Utah was the most important team of the 2008 college football team. 

For you nitpickers, there were some weaker parts of the 2008 season that a supposed national title contender shouldn’t have on their resumés. Only beating a terrible Michigan team by two is defensible given it was the first game of the year and it was on the road. Winning by three over a 4-win New Mexico team that fired their coach after the season is far less than impressive. Oregon State couldn’t close out a game at Utah with under a minute left and Utah promptly took advantage. It’s what great teams do. 

2008 = The Year of the Ute. 

People

Wait, where did everybody go? The Utes lose starting QB Brian Johnson to graduation (amongst unconfirmed rumors of an AC/DC tour), the three starting receivers, star DE Paul Kruger early to the draft, two starters on the OL, a rotation RB, a defensive tackle, and both starting corners. Kruger’s supposed weakside replacement, blue chip JC transfer James Aiono, also won’t be making it to the SLC until next season. 

The strength of the team looks to be the returning linebackers, led by OLB Stevenson Sylvester (I checked, it’s not backwards). It’ll be a season of opponents both attacking what should be a more conservative offensive attack and throwing against an inexperienced Ute secondary. 

On the coaching front, they lose offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, though some (ahem) may argue the validity of the term “loss” here. The good news is that the Utah head coach job appears to be a destination gig for Kyle Whittingham, which is always an advantage when your team is forced to swim against the current in a skewed system. 

This Year

They open with two wins against Utah State and San Jose State. SJSU has improved under Dick Tomey, but Utah should be able to get a win after USC toys with the Spartans the week before. As nice as it was to beat Oregon six years ago (and inspire the Ducks to move to the spread), Eugene doesn’t look to be pretty for a rebuilding team. 

Louisville is a winnable home game, Colorado State is a bowl team that could pose problems on the road. Frankly, a game at UNLV followed by three straight at home against Air Force, Wyoming, and New Mexico should all yield victories. 

The tail end of the schedule has the Utes on the road against TCU and BYU teams that can’t be terribly pleased about losing in Salt Lake City last year. There’s a small shot against TCU, but the Holy War at BYU won’t be pretty. 

Conclusion

The personnel losses are significant, but outside of three brutal road games at Oregon, TCU, and BYU, the Utes have a reasonable opportunity to minimize their fall from last season’s unprecedented grace. Breaking in new corners is never fun, but the passing in the Mountain West is essentially limited to Max Hall and BYU … though it is A LOT of passing. 

The Prediction

8-4

Highlights Set to Unfortunate Music

-Dan