J. Brady McCollough looks at the 25 biggest storylines in college football heading into the 2019 season. Will Utah make a run at the Pac-12 title?
Many programs would give anything for the consistency Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has brought to the Utes as they’ve transitioned from the Mountain West to the Pac-12.
After consecutive 5-7 seasons in 2012-13, Utah has won at least nine games in four of the last five years.
In 2018, Utah took a big step forward, winning the Pac-12 South Division for the first time. In the league title game in Santa Clara, the Utes’ defense valiantly kept them in the game before falling 10-3 to Washington.
It was easy to forget in the midst of that slop-fest that Utah played the last three games of the regular season and the Washington game without starting quarterback Tyler Huntley and star running back Zack Moss.
Huntley broke his collarbone in a Nov. 3 loss at Arizona State that appeared to end the Utes’ South Division hopes, and Moss injured his knee a few days later at practice. Yet, their teammates went out and won the next three over Oregon, Colorado and Brigham Young.
The fact that Utah was even in position to be a touchdown away from winning the Pac-12 was a testament to the strong foundation Whittingham has built in Salt Lake City since Urban Meyer left for Florida after an undefeated season in 2004.
This summer, the Pac-12 media picked Utah to finish what it started and win the conference. It felt like a surprise, but it shouldn’t have been.
Huntley is back, and, if he is injured or isn’t effective, Whittingham knows he can win with sophomore Jason Shelley. Moss’ decision to return for his senior season when he has certainly proven enough individually shows how determined the Utes are to do something special as a group.
Plus, the ferocious “Sack Lake City” defense returns seven starters. Whittingham has said this could be the best defense he’s coached, which is a weighty statement.
We’ll learn a lot about Utah’s potential for national relevance in the first month. The Utes open at BYU on Aug. 29, travel to USC on Sept. 20 and host Washington State on Sept. 28. Get through that, and the schedule really opens up. Utah could very well be undefeated going into a Pac-12 title-game rematch at Washington on Nov. 2.
The Utes are on the verge of a Pac-12 breakthrough, and it isn’t far-fetched to say they’re the league’s best shot at a College Football Playoff contender.