Hello again Ute fans. This is the second part of my season preview which will cover my game to game analysis.
It goes without saying that this off-season was one of the most wild ones in recent history. The big news that Utah will join the Pac-10 next year was the golden news we had waited for. However, I do not wish to get ahead of myself in expansion talk. I share Coach Kyle Whittingham's view: when 2010 is over and the spring ball starts next year, then we can talk about Utah's chances in Pac-10 (or Pac-12 as it will be called) contention. So let's get started boys:
WEEK 1: vs Pittsburgh
This is a grudge match more than five years in the making. The last time we saw these boys were great times for Utah fans: Urban Meyer was just putting the exclamation point on a perfect season and newly promoted DC Kyle Whittingham was getting ready to take the helm. Make no mistake though, this is not the same Panther team we humiliated in the Fiesta Bowl: These guys are a top-notch team that is an early favorite to win the Big East Conference. Most of the talk we've heard is about potential Heisman candidate RB Dion Lewis and for good reason: this guy is a play maker and looks to have a great sophomore season. If that wasn't bad enough, Pitt also boast one of the finest defensive end duo's in the country in Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard. This game will be a true test in many aspects: Can Utah's run defense slow down Lewis, and can Utah's talented offensive line keep Jordan Wynn safe? Those two questions will be the key in this great season opener.
The Utes win if.... The offense is good as advertised in spring and fall camps. If the defense is one step behind than last year, the offense will have to play keep away and just outscore Pitt. Easier said than done, but tensions are always high in a season opener.
The Utes lose if... Lewis has a field day and Utah line struggles against the run as it did last year. Utah could also be in for a long day if Pitts ends spend a lot of time in Utah backfield.
My pick: I'm really pumped up for football and I think Kyle's boys are too. The offense and defense will have butterflies but I think this offense will make a statement that Utah is a good team and is not to be taken lightly. Again the most likely scenario for me is Utah outscoring the Panthers and keeping Lewis off the field. Utah 34 Pitt 21
WEEK 2: vs U.N.L.V
Like most of our conference foes, this could be the last time we play these boys for a long time. That being said, you have to give props to the Rebels. Our game against them a few years back was no doubt one of Utah's darkest hours but since then things have looked better for us. As for the Rebels? not so much. Gone is former Utah OC Mike Sanford who promised to return them into contenders and failed: The rebels bring in former Montana coach Bobby Hauck to turn things around: Hauck has an impressive resume in the division II football (better known as the FCS) but this is a new level of ball he's dealing with. The cupboard isn't exactly bare but UNLV has always been more of a basketball school thus it's been awhile since football made some serious noise in Vegas. Having senior QB Omar Clayton and a decent o-line will help, but I think UNLV will hit some serious bumps in this transition year
Utah wins if....They don't lose their cool , On paper Utah is just better than UNLV but as we learned back in 07', strange things happen in the MWC.
UNLV wins if...Clayton finds a grove and takes advantage of a questionable secondary that has many new faces.
My Pick: Having a conference game like UNLV will help us out tremendously. I think this one will get ugly and we'll see Terrence Cain taking some snaps . Utah wins 45-17
WEEK 3: @ New Mexico
Once upon a time, these guys we're one of the biggest thorns in our side. It seems even in our good years, New Mexico was never a gimme. Well, that changed a lot last year when first year coach Mike Locksley had nothing go right. I don't expect much to change this time around. I think Utah will open the playbook (so to speak) and use this game to give QB J. Wynn confidence for tough games later on.
Utah wins if....They just show up and play ball. They are the better team and as such need to put this one away early.
New Mexico wins if....Jordan Wynn gets injured (quick, knock on wood!) and NM shows us they have a few aces up their sleeves.....not likely, though.
My pick: Utah will take care of business and roll the Lobo's. Utah wins 49-10
WEEK 4: vs San Jose St.
Being perfectly frank, SJSU was just bad last year. On the other hand though, Utah struggled to put these guys away when we played them. We get them at home this time which will help out a lot. I see this being another ugly game for the Spartans though; This team has just too many question marks this year.
Utah Wins if...Again, if they just show up and put this one away early they should have no problem.
San Jose St. wins if...all hell breaks lose.I don't see it happening though
My pick : This one will be another chance for the offense to shine: Utah wins 52-7
WEEK 5: @ Iowa St.
This game is a lot like the SJSU game last year: we really don't know what to expect from them. What we do know is that they went bowling last year (beating Minnesota). I wouldn't take this one for granted though, teams in the Big-12 can surprise you. For starters they have a senior QB and a pretty good running back. Plus this game is on the road so this one isn't a gimme.
Utah will win if....They keep ISU's biggest weapon, RB Alexander Robinson at bay, and not just on the ground, he's also a threat at receiver. The good news is ISU finished next-to-last in the Big-12 conference in defense last year and look to replace some starters.
Iowa St. will win if...Their senior QB shows he has improved his passing game and/or Robinson finds some holes up front.
My pick: I wouldn't be surprised if this one was a blowout too but I'll give the Cyclones the benefit of a doubt. I think this one will be competitive but not necessarily a close game. Utah wins 35-24
WEEK 6: @ Wyoming
Last's years game against the cowboys at Rice-Eccles was the spring board of Jordan Wynn's collegiate career. He performed admirably and hopes to have grown a lot since then. Wyoming was one of the surprise teams in the MWC last year and look to build on Dave Christensen's first year success. Like our own QB, Wyoming QB Austyn Carta-Samuels had some success as a freshman last year and looks to be Wyoming's starter for the forseeable future. Because this game is in Laramie, this will be a tough one, especially if the cowboys have improved noticeably from last year.
Utah wins if....Jordan Wynn gives a great performance and shows the cowboys the same treatment he gave them last year. The Utes also need to stay focused: Laramie is a pretty tough crowd, and the weather could get rough.
Wyoming wins if....Samuels has a great game and the Cowboys feed off the home crowd. This is their last shot at us so they'll be giving it their all.
My Pick: I give Utah a small edge in this one, but like I said this one isn't a gimme. Utah wins 27-21
WEEK 7: vs Colorado St.
We've had our bumps with these guys but most of the games between Utah and Colorado St. haven''t been close. next year we start a new rivalry with the Rams hated foes: The Buffalos. hopefully we can give our Ram friends one last beat down before we leave. Coorado St. impressed many by winning early but they caved in and lost their last 9 games. I don't see the Rams going bowling this year.
Utah wins if...They take care of business at home....yeah, that's it.
Colorado St. Wins if...They show that last year was a fluke and that they are more like the team that went to a bowl in 08' .
My pick: Utah will show the Rams no mercy: Utah wins 49-13
WEEK 8: @Air Force
These guys need no introduction. The falcons famed triple option attack will be one thing the Utes will not miss next year. Air Force is the first of a brutal season ending stretch (provided Notre Dame and BYU perform well). The fact we play these boys in Colorado Springs will make things even more fun. One things for certain: The falcons love to play us close and I see no reason why this year will change. (especially if this is our last hurrah). Could this finally be the year the Falcons break into a top three team in the MWC?.
Utah wins if....They can stop that pesky running game!, that could happen too if the falcons o-line struggles to perform this year. (a definite possibly given most of the o-line is new). Air Force has also had a reputation of surprising us in the air, If Utah want to win this one they need to strike early and force the falcons to play catch-up.
Air Force wins if...Utah has trouble against the run, and the o-line grows up quickly. The Utes will also be in trouble if falcon QB Tim Jefferson gets in a grove in the passing game.
My Pick: As with our contests with the Falcons every year, this one could go either way. I think Utah is better this year but I'll still call this one a toss-up.
WEEK 9: vs TCU
This is the big one boys. without a doubt, I think this game will be Utah biggest test. TCU comes back to Rice -Eccles Statium in a huge grudge match from their last visit. Gary Patterson is cut from the same cloth as Coach Whittingham: he's a defensive minded guy. As such , I'm sure he'll find a way to replace losses on defense (namely Jerry Hughes) and give us all we can handle. Bottom line: these guys are the defending champions and will play like it. Playing this game at RES is key, even though Jordan Wynn got roughed up in Ft. Worth last year, he showed good poise. Hopefully he'll get the chance to pay the frogs back for last years embarrassment.
Utah wins if....It all begins with stopping senior Andy Dalton, if the Utes want to dethrone the Frogs, they will need to get after him and make sure he never gets comfortable behind the o-line. this is a very tall task as TCU line looks solid. Utah must also leave it all on the field. TCU's defense is rock solid but it isn't invincible. If Utah makes the right moves on offense they can run with these guys.
TCU wins if....They continue to dominate the Utes on defense and cause problems in the running game. Andy Dalton was great last year but it was the running attack and Utah turnovers that doomed them early in last years game. If Andy Dalton has time though, he will burn us.
My Pick: Utah looks to have improved on offense since last year but don't let that fool you if they don't play a near perfect game, TCU will beat us again. Realistically, I see a loss here although not a blowout like last year: TCU 45-38
WEEK 10: @Notre Dame
This game could have huge implications as well. ND was so-so last year costing Charlie Weis his job; Enter Brian Kelly. Kelly has shown he can succeed. (his record at Cincinnati is good proof of that) He hopes to succeed where Weis failed by making Notre Dame football relevant again. I believe he will do well but new coaches and new systems don't always pan out well for big name schools (just ask Michigan and Rich Rodriguez). In any case this will be a huge test for the Utes on the road.
Utah wins if....Jordan Wynn can show he can win on the road, Utah should have a clear identity by now. Just take care of business: that's all we can ask. Considering ND is moving to a spread attack (as opposed to a pro style offense) Utah have to plan well since they are a top notch spread team themselves.
Notre Dame wins if...They have success breaking in their new QB. ND has plenty of weapons on offense, (they have a top notch receiver and TE ) . Even though they lack a lot of experience on the defensive line, the Utes must keep an eye on LB Manti Te'o: he has a lot of potential to be a All-american pick.
My Pick: Again, this one is hard to call because we have no idea how the Irish will look by this time. On paper the Utes have more experience at various skill positions but don't count out Brian Kelly. Another toss up for me.
WEEK 11: @San Diego St.
I've joked in the past that the Aztecs are our annual tune-up game for the Holy War. Having said that though, SDSU could be this years surprise team (It seem they always have the potential to be good but fall short doesn't it?). They came close to bowling last year but a late season slump killed their chances. I really like what Brady Hoke is doing at SDSU. With time, I'm sure he can make the Aztecs relevant.
Utah wins if....They don't look ahead...The Utes need to put the brakes on SDSU offense early and quick like they have in the past.
San Diego St. wins if ....They find a groove in the passing game, SDSU has a decent QB in Ryan Lindley. He's just a little erratic and you never know if he'll be great or lay an egg (he lead the MWC in interceptions last year). you also can't count out our old friend Rocky Long and his annoying defense.
My pick: Even in down years, Utah has held it's own quite well against the Aztecs. This year will be no different. Utah will get its offense tuned up for it's annual contest the following week. Utah wins 54-20
WEEK 12: vs BYU
These boys really need no introduction. We love to hate these guys. Even though TCU is Utah biggest test, I think this years match-up between our rivals will be epic. Make no mistake, we will play these guys beyond 2010. But this game is the end of a long era. This is very likely to be the last season ending battle between the Utes and the TDS. On paper the Utes look much better top to bottom, but as we have learned the hard way 3 out of the last 4 years, overall records and stats mean nothing in this rivalry. One one end the Cougars look to give Utah a parting gift before they leave the MWC but on the other hand, Utah (particularly its fans) will have revenge on their minds due to former QB Max Hall's "I hate Utah" rant. I hope with all my heart we crush those zoobs into next week and give them a hangover so bad they won't be able to think (or play) strait on their annual visit to Vegas. By all accounts, BYU won't be terrible at QB, word is that Jake Heaps kid is pretty good....looks like we'll have to give him special treatment.
Utah wins if....They simply execute when the game matters most. With the exception of the blowouts of 04' and 08' , the Holy War has been decided by a touchdown of less for a very long time. The Utes also need to play top notch in the red-zone. that's what killed us last year. It would also help if we keep the penalties at a minimum too...I realize tensions are high in a rivalry game but you gotta keep your cool.
BYU...wins if.....The simply want it more in the end. Which is what happened last year.
My pick: I fully believe we will crush these guys this year...there just too much at stake for us to lose 4 out of 5. Having said that though, I stress again: ANYTHING can happen in the Holy War...Utah will win this one 52-35
I think this year has the potential to be something special like 04' and 08'but I take the one game at a time approach. This is one of the best offenses on paper , but this is also a very challenging schedule. Even if we don't win the MWC, I would be content with a 10 -win season and beating BYU one last time in MWC play.
Well that's my preview boys. Hope to share good times with you this season.
As always GO UTES!!!!