There is no shortness of optimism among Utah fans right now. If polls are to be believed (and let's be honest, they do decide what will happen, right?), you're all pretty confident the Utes will start the season 5-0. For a team that won five games total last year - matching that total just five (six, counting the bye) weeks into the season would prove quite the turnaround.
Now I know polls are mostly a tool of emotion and not logic - when you're voting, you're mostly doing it out of hope and not necessarily what you expect for that game. It's also the preseason, when every team is undefeated and the hopes of a solid season feel more realistic than when the actual play on the field takes over and corrupts our thoughts. If Utah fans had to put down some heavy rock on whether or not the Utes will start 5-0 this season, I'd wager none of you would be as confident.
But it's always nice to have a bit of hope. It means we're not that removed from being good - as you can see Utah beating UCLA, even if you don't really believe they will. Ask Colorado fans the same question for their first five games and I doubt you'll see the same results, and it isn't because their fans are less homerish than ours - it's just that they're grounded in the reality of a struggling program.
So, I don't think there is anything wrong with it. The second we become too real about Utah's chances is the day the program has officially slipped and we're expecting those losses. Right now, though? Why should any fan concede a defeat in any of those five games? They shouldn't - not now, anyway.
Still, we're smart enough to know that the chances of Utah nearly running the table in the first half of their season remains small. It's not easy winning two in a row - let alone five - and Utah will have to do it against some legitimately good competition.
We have some doubts because last year's team often struggled and it's hard to foresee those struggles just vanishing entirely at the start of this season. That doesn't mean there won't be improvement, and we definitely expect at least some improvement, but is it going to be dramatic enough to keep up with the toughness of the schedule? That depends on how many improvements we see and whether or not there is some regression. Remember, while there are positions Utah should improve on this season, it could be all negated by a step back at, say, running back.
That means there remains some concerns for 2013. What's the biggest? What position could potentially undo a successful 2013 season?
Travis Wilson's first season was, as expected, often tumultuous, and that has led some to worry about his future prospects. Still, the coaches appear to have foreseen that possibility and stacked up at quarterback with Adam Schulz and Brandon Cox - though, as you'll see with the running backs, their game-time experience is woefully minimal and a concern in its own right. But I'm confident about Wilson and the quarterbacks and feel this year will be much less shaky than last, which should go along way toward fixing many of the offensive problems that have plagued Utah these past two seasons.
John White IV was a phenomenal runner and player and his loss is going to hurt because it's one less near-consistent player the team can put on the football field. Now, White had an up and down season last year because of injury, yet, still managed over 1,000 yards, and that without the luxury of a bowl game. Who is going to plug that hole? The front-runner is, of course, Kelvin York, who stepped in for White a great deal earlier in the 2012 season. He finished the year with 273 yards and his most impressive performance came against Arizona State - though, obviously, it was all for naught considering the Utes were destroyed. But beyond York, you have a lot of untapped, uncertain talent - like Karl Williams, who impressed in spring, Lucky Radley, who's been trying to make his move since arriving here a few years ago, James Poole, and then junior college transfer Devontae Booker. On paper, Utah is legitimately stacked at running back - at least it appears that way. Unfortunately, much of the talent is too inexperienced to confidently say any can handle their role in replacing White. Because of that, there are some questions at this position, though, to be fair, I think the questions will be answered in the positive for Utah.
I was a bit disappointed with the wide receivers last year. I felt there was a lot of hype and little delivery and maybe it was the extent of the quarterback/offensive line problems, but that doesn't change the fact my concern has carried over into this season. That's not to say there isn't talent - Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott are two exception players - but at one point, so was DeVonte Christopher and he kind of fizzled in his leadership role last year.
If it's anything like last year's line, this is going to be a long season. Even so, even with how badly they performed last year, there is buzz surrounding this position. Is it justified?
Utah replaces a lot of talent on the defensive line, most notably Star Lotulelei, and that's not going to be an easy task. Who's going to step up and fill that role? It's likely a role that can't be filled and the Utes will just have to make do with what they have - namely from Tenny Palepoi, Trevor Reilly and Nate Orchard - the latter who had a fairly disappointing 2012 season. Is there enough talent and experience to make up for the losses on what was considered, at one point prior to last season, as one of the best defensive lines in the country?
I don't like listing this one, but the potential is there that coaching ultimately could be an issue, and a hindrance. I'm not saying it's Kyle Whittingham, but maybe an unsure assistant or potentially the development of Utah's receivers under Aaron Roderick - either way, could coaching be a concern for 2013? Even Utah's newest offensive coordinator, Dennis Erickson, a coach in his 60s who flamed out at Arizona State, isn't necessarily a home run hire.
Those are legitimate concerns and with so many questions even without getting to the coaches, it becomes clearer why the national media isn't really taking Utah seriously.
Will any of those undo the season and are there other concerns I didn't mention? What are your biggest fears about the 2013 Utah football team?