Obviously we won't know the answer until the season begins, but I'm guessing I am not the only Ute fan who has questions about this year's team.
- Can Utah beat Michigan? It's going to an awfully tough game, even if Michigan lacks the talent they have seen in the past. If there is one year to grab a win over one of the most elite programs in college football history, this is it. However, I'm still not expecting a win, because I honestly don't think the Wolverines will look past the Utes. Luckily, though, Utah should be more familiar with Michigan's offense than the Wolverine players themselves -- since it's comparable to what the team has run since the Urban Meyer days.
- Can Utah put together a full season? And when I ask this, it isn't necessarily asking if they'll go undefeated (we'll get to that later), but rather not having a game that leaves most fans with a bad taste in their mouths. In each of the last 3 years, there have been games (sometimes multiple in a season) where the Utes should really not have lost and they definitely should not have lost the way they did. Will 2008 be any different, or will Utah drop a few games over the course of a season that costs them more than just a gaudy record?
- Can Brian Johnson stay healthy? Last season was hyped as being the return of Brian Johnson after a season of sitting out over a leg injury. Yet, in the first game, he went down and his outlook has been questionable since. Add on the collarbone injury and the Utes' fortunes definitely cling to whether or not Johnson can be healthy enough to play as well as he did during the height of the 2007 season. If he can, Utah should be good to go, but if there is a nagging injury there, it could set Utah back this year.
- Can the offense produce at a high level consistently? I've proven to be one of Andy Ludwig's harshest critic, but I'm also optimistic that maybe this is the year everything comes together on the offensive side of the ball. Last season, the Utes' offense played efficiently, but struggled in some key games, namely the final regular season one against BYU. Under Ludwig, Utah's offense tends to play up and down and this is the year where it probably needs to play consistently well if Utah is going to make some noise either nationally, or within the conference. If the offense continues to play up and down, well question 9 will probably not happen.
- Can Utah go undefeated at home? It doesn't sound that important of a question, however, going undefeated at home automatically gives Utah 6-wins on the season. Couple that with the fact Utah faces some probable Mountain West Conference championship contenders (BYU and TCU) and it becomes apparent why winning at home is so important. Had Utah gone undefeated at home last year, they would have finished 10-3 and would have been a stop away from winning the Mountain West championship. Instead, they went 9-4 and finished tied for 3rd.
- Can Utah finally win the Mountain West? Let's face it, the success of a program is tied to conference championships and since Urban Meyer left Salt Lake, Utah hasn't really been in contention for one since. That has to change and this is Utah's best shot in a few years to win it. Not only do they have a favorable schedule, they return much of their talent from last year and should be good to go. But this will require many of the above questions, which has been a problem for Utah the past 3 years. If Utah is going to become a dominant football program, it will have to start by winning the Mountain West this year. If they do that, then success should come in the future.
- Can the Utes crack the top-25? They won't start there, but they should begin the season with votes, as they generally do. Now a win over Michigan could catapult the Utes into the top-25 and set the course for something special. But even if Utah does lose their opening game against Michigan, the schedule breaks down fairly favorable to where they can run off a pretty impressive winning streak and crack the top-25 that way. After Michigan, Utah plays very winnable games against UNLV, Utah State, Air Force, Weber State, Oregon State, Wyoming and Colorado State. If they win those games, they should easily enter the top-25 as they arrive to the meaty part of their schedule.
- Can Utah stop the revenge factor? Wyoming is going to be pumped to play the Utes and this is a game that actually concerns me more than most any other on the schedule. It's one Utah should win, however, the Cowboys will easily remember last year's 50-0 loss to the Utes in Salt Lake and I'm willing to bet they come out charged for this one. Of course, Utah should equally remember Joe Glenn giving Kyle Whittingham -- and subsequently the team -- the one-fingered victory (not) salute. This should be a brawl.
- Can Utah finally beat BYU? I think we can all agree BYU has had their little run and now it's time for Utah to regain the series advantage. BYU hasn't won
twothree in a row over the Utes in 16 years and the last time the Cougars did win two in a row, the Utes followed it up with a 4-game rivalry winning streak. This is a good year to start another Ute winning streak, right?
- Can Utah have that special season? Probably not, but if all the above questions are answered positively, they should. That would require beating Michigan, winning all their home games, not having an offensive letdown, a healthy Brian Johnson and most importantly, winning the Mountain West. As Utah won't come close to sniffing the BCS If they can't win the conference.