Phil Steele markets their publication as the most accurate predictor of college football in the country. Utah fans had better hope Steele is wrong about the Utes this season. Steele recently released his Preseason All Pac-12 (and SEC) team, and there are no Utes on the first team offense or defense. Wide receiver Dres Anderson is the lone representative on the second team. Offensive lineman Jeremiah Poutasi and defensive lineman Nate Orchard check in on the third team, and linebacker Jason Whittingham, safety/linebacker Brian Blechen, and safety/cornerback Eric Rowe made the fourth team, along with surprising fourth team offense selection Devontae Booker.
The bright spot on the Steele All Pac-12 list is that punter Tom Hackett and place kicker Andy "Automatic" Phillips were both first team special teams selections.
If Kenneth Scott can stay healthy for a full season and Kaelin Clay has the reliable hands to go with his fast feet, Anderson might not be relegated to second team All Pac-12, and he might make some national noise. However, even with additional weapons on the field, Anderson's, Scott's, Clay's and every other Utah wide receiver's fate will be determined by the emergence of a solid quarterback in the fall and the effectiveness of both new offensive line coach Jim Harding's line and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen's offense. Quarterback, o-line, and offense are all big questions marks at this point.
Sophomore defensive end Hunter Dimick (6-3, 270) and junior defensive end Jason Fanaika (6-3, 270) might be the kind of unknowns that can make some waves in the Pac-12, causing enough havoc on the other side of the line to open some lanes for rush end Orchard (6-4, 255) to lay the wood. Fanaika, in particular, may be too talented to keep off the field, giving Utah a solid, versatile three defensive end rotation that could really shake up opposing offenses. And the future may not be too far out with ends Moana Ofahengaue (freshman, 6-3, 235) and Pita Taumoepenu (sophomore, 6-1, 230) perhaps being too talented to keep off the depth chart.
If Utah is going to improve on 2013's 5-7 record, several defenders will have to step up the All Pac-12 ranks, especially from the linebacking corps and secondary. The Utes cannot afford another season where they couldn't cover the talented wide receivers of the Pac-12 or stop the high-powered option running games from teams like Oregon, Arizona State, and Arizona.
Jerry Palm, CBSSports.com's "bowl expert" predicts neither a playoff spot for the Pac-12 nor a bowl game for the Utes in his Bowl Projections. The Pac-12 is locked into agreements with six bowl games outside of the playoff system, which includes the Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Peach Bowl, which amounts to six at-large berths outside of the four for the playoffs. Essentially, according to Palm, Utah won't be bowl eligible this season, which would mean a third straight losing season. If that were to happen, clearly, Utah athletic director Chris Hill would be faced with a very difficult decision about the direction of the football program.
The NFL is doing a series of articles detailing college football players with certain characteristics (smartest, toughest, etc). The Utes own Dres Anderson was listed at no. 3 on NFL.com's list of the Most Explosive college players, slotted just behind running back Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin (no. 2) and wideout Antwan Goodley of Baylor (no. 1).
Offshore betting site, The Greek, has released their odds for the Pac-12 championship (see below). Utah checks in at 50:1 to win their first Pac-12 football championship, definitely not good odds but also not dead last. Not even the most optimistic among us would dare predict the Utes will rise up and knock off the Pac-12 power elite; however, if Utah finishes the 2014 season in the order hinted at here, Utah would end up with a third straight losing season. That's something Utes fans haven't seen since before former head coach Ron McBride started building up Utah football.