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Looking back at the 2014 Utah football predictions

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The 2014 Utes surpassed national expectations by finishing 9-4 and winning the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the 2014 season, there were a lot of questions surrounding the University of Utah football team. Would Travis Wilson be cleared to play? If so, how effective would he be? Was Kyle Whittingham on the hot seat? How would Dave Christensen's arrival effect the Utes anemic 2013 offense?

There were some newcomers many Ute fans knew little about and had not yet seen in action, such as Kaelin Clay. The running back position was a giant questions mark. Gionni Paul's name had a lot of hype attached to it, but he had yet to take the field for the Utes. The only sure things heading into the season were place kicker and punter respectively.

Here is a chart we ran back on June 20th 2014 showing national predictions for how the Utes would fare in 2014:


ATHLON SPORTS SPORTING NEWS USA TODAY PHIL STEELE
RECORD 6-6 (4-5) No prediction
*Do note schedule suggests no improvement from 2013
5-7 (3-6) Not available
BOWL Independence Bowl vs Duke None None Not available
ALL PAC-12
Andy Phillips (K) - 1st Team
Tom Hacket ( P) - 1st Team
Eric Rowe (S) - 2nd Team Defense
Dres Anderson (WR) - 3rd Team Offense
Geoffrey Norwood (PR) - 3rd Team Specialists
Tom Hacket (P) Eric Rowe (S) Tom Hackett( P) - 1st Team
Andy Phillips(K) - 1st Team
Dres Anderson (WR) - 2nd Team
Geoffrey Norwood (PR) - 2nd Team
Jeremiah Poutasi (OT) - 3rd Team
Nate Orchard (DE) - 3rd Team
Devontae Booker (RB) - 4th Team
Jason Whittingham(LB) - 4th Team
Eric Rowe (DB) - 4th Team
Brian Blechen(LB/S) - 4th Team
ALL AMERICA None None None

Tom Hackett ( P) - 2nd Team

Andy Phillips (K) - 3rd Team

OFFENSE Expects new OC Dave Christensen to have a big impact on Utes. Expects Travis Wilson to return as starting QB, and RB Devontae Booker noted as "rising star." Utes averaged 6.4 yards per play on 1st down (17th nationally), worse on 2nd (73rd) and 3rd down (67th). Utah finished 11th in the Pac-12 in total offense in 2013. Dave Christensen is expected to "create a sense of urgency in Utah's spread offense." Without Travis Wilson last season, the offense "borders on abysmal." Not available
DEFENSE Utes were tied for dead last in interceptions in 2013 with just 3 on the season, including Trevor Reilly's season ending pick. Utah intercepted just 5.5% of passes defended. (The average team in 2013 intercepted 22%.) The return of Brian Blechen and the addition of safety Tevin Carter should help to solidify the defensive secondary. The Utes biggest defensive issue is replacing Reilly, which may be by committee. Utah's secondary needs Reginald Porter to rebound from a hip injury to help shore up the Linebacker Gionni Paul is highlighted, but the Utes may have to wait on the injured Miami transfer. Not available
NOTABLE Utah ranked 11th in Pac-12 in kickoff returns, a stat that should change as head coach Kyle Whittingham takes over coaching the special teams. Utah also ranked 112 in FBS in turnover margin (-10). Dres Anderson listed as a "difference maker," but they note "games at Stanford, Arizona State, and UCLA - plus Michigan - suggest the record won't show much improvement." USA Today hangs the season on the shoulders of new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen, but they do note the "brutal" schedule and don't anticipate improvement on last season's 5-7 record. Not available

Now, almost a year after this chart was originally published, let's review the predictions and see how accurate they were.

First let's look at the record. Athlon predicted a 6-6 (4-5) finish, while USA Today had the Utes going 5-7 (3-6). Both ended up selling the 2014 Utes short. Whittingham's crew ended the year 9-4 (5-4) with a Las Vegas bowl win. Where the Utes really exceeded predictions was in conference play.

Prior to the season, many analysts predicted Washington State and Colorado to be much improved and possibly give the Utes a run for their money. They were right. WSU gave the Utes their most humbling loss of the year on a rainy September night at Rice-Eccles, while Dominique Hatfield needed a late game pick six to secure a Utah win over Colorado. Where Utah exceeded pundits predictions, was against the likes of UCLA, Stanford and USC all three which were considered pretty heavy favorites to beat Utah before the season. As we know, Utah was able to go a surprising 3-0 against these schools, taking Whittingham off the hot seat and making the difference between finishing the regular season 5-7 and 8-4.

Moving on to the All-Pac-12 predictions, both Tom Hackett and Andy Phillips were predicted to be first team selections by both Athlon and Phil Steele. Their predictions proved to be correct as Andy Phillips and Tom Hackett both were recognized as first team All Pac-12 along with Nate Orchard and Kaelin Clay. Only Phil Steele had predicted post season accolades for Orchard tabbing him for a third team Pac-12 and no one even mentioned Clay in the predictions. Both surpassed expectations greatly. Jeremiah Poutasi was named second team all Pac-12 While Brian Blechen, Jared Norris, Lowell Loutuleilei, Hunter Dimick and Eric Rowe received honorable mention.

On offense, both Athlon and Sporting news predicted Dave Christensen to install a more dynamic offense, a prediction which seems to have missed. Athlon however did redeem themselves calling Booker a "rising star" prior to the season, a prediction he surpassed with flying colors. USA Today could keep their same prediction from last year but replace Travis Wilson with Devontae Booker.

Defensively, there were concerns about replacing Trevor Reilly and the secondary was a question mark having only recorded 3 interceptions in 2013. While Reilly was a great player for the Utes, Orchard and Dimick more than compensated for his loss, as each outperformed Reilly's 2013 performance. The move of Rowe to cornerback and the emergence of Dominique Hatfield seemed to shore up the corner position with each grabbing an interception, but the addition of Gionni Paul stands out the most. Paul nabbed 4 INT's, more than the entire 2013 defense, all by himself in just 9 games. In addition he tied for third on the team in total tackles with 61. Paul's numbers in an injury shortened season, prove he can live up to the expectations that were placed on him.

Overall the 2014 Utes surpassed national predictions in all facets. Looking ahead to next season, the Utes will again have a bear of a schedule. They have proven talent returning however, so national pundits will likely predict a 7 or 8 win season for the Utes. Devontae Booker, Hunter Dimick and Gionni Paul will all be candidates for first team All Pac-12 and All-American honors. With the talent returning, I predict another 9-4 season with a 10-3 season possible if things break Utah's way. Let us know in the comments how the Utes fared against your expectations in 2014 and what you expect for 2015.