Utah is heavily targeting junior college recruits in their 2016 recruiting class. The 2015 Utah squad was a senior-laden group. The offense, defense, and special teams will be missing key players. On offense, starting quarterback Travis Wilson and backup quarterback Kendal Thompson both graduated. Two-time All-Pac-12 running back Devontae Booker, who was the focal point of Utah's offense for two seasons is gone. The Utes will be without three starting wide receivers from the 2015 team with Bubba Poole and Kenneth Scott graduating and Britain Covey leaving on a mission. Starting center Siaosi Aiono graduated as well. The defense lost its best player as well in first-team All-Pac-12 linebacker Gionni Paul. The linebacking corps was hit the hardest by graduation, also losing second-team All-Pac-12 linebacker Jared Norris and Jason Whittingham, a multi-year starter at the position. Up front, Utah loses defensive end Jason Fanaika and defensive tackle Viliseni Fauonuku. Utah also loses Las Vegas Bowl MVP safety Tevin Carter. Two-time Ray Guy Award winning punter Tom Hackett also graduates.
The 2016 Utes will not be without talent with players like second-team All-Pac-12 offensive lineman J.J. Dielman, first-team All-Pac-12 defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei, two-time first team All-Pac-12 kicker Andy Phillips, and first-team All-Pac-12 safety Marcus Williams both returning. Utah returns four starting offensive linemen, which is one of the better metrics for predicting success. The Utes will just have a lot of holes to fill from some excellent players, Booker, Hackett, Norris, and Paul especially. Based on their recruiting, it seems like the Utes may plan to fill these holes with JuCo recruits. Since JuCos are older, they are expected to compete for playing time right away and are generally better at filling immediate holes than high school recruits. The areas of greatest need for the Utes to fill before the start of the 2016 season are: quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker, and punter.
While offensive line is not a huge need for the Utes, Utah is getting some huge help in the form of Snow College offensive tackle Garret Bolles, who is one of the top JuCo recruits and is committed to Utah. Bolles is rated in the top 3 of JuCo prospects for every recruiting site. Bolles has the talent to step in and be a day one starter. His combination of skill, athleticism, and aggressiveness is rare to find, which is why Bolles is such an elite prospect. He had offers from all over and could have gone pretty much wherever he wanted.
Spring will feature a true open competition at quarterback for Utah, but the favorite to win the job is likely Santa Monica College (and former Washington) quarterback Troy Williams. Williams is rated a four-star recruit by Rivals and was a high four-star recruit coming out of Narbonne High School (Harbor City, Calif.). Williams has the athleticism necessary to run the option. He however chooses to rely on his arm primarily and only run when he has to. This is a quality I like in quarterbacks. He throws his wide receivers open, which should really help out many of Utah's new wide receivers.
The running back position is likely settled with former ASA College running back Joe Williams stepping in for the departed Booker, who was a former JuCo player himself. Williams filled in for Booker after he suffered a season-ending injury in the Arizona game. Utah will also get Troy McCormick back from an injury. McCormick and Williams both possess great speed. Utah also has Grossmont College running back Thomas McDonald committed in their 2016 class. McDonald will likely be a backup to Williams this year and could step into a starting role as a senior. He will certainly add needed quality depth this year.
The wide receiver position will be without starting outside wide receiver Kenneth Scott and slot receivers Britain Covey and Bubba Poole (who was a former JuCo). Grossmont College product Tim Patrick was projected to be a starter in 2015, but he was not able to fully recover from a broken leg that cut short his 2014 season. Patrick will likely start in 2016 for Utah. Freshmen Tyrone Smith saw a lot of action in 2015 for Utah, and redshirt freshman Raelon Singleton saw some playing time (though he was slowed by injuries) in 2015 as well. Expect each of their roles to expand. Patrick, Singleton, and Smith are all 6-3 or taller. Utah has 6-3 wide receiver Alec Dana from Chaffey College committed to their 2016 class. One player Utah is actively pursuing is Snow College wide receiver and current BYU commit Jonah Trinnaman. Trinnaman is rated a four-star wide receiver by Rivals. His primary recruiter at BYU was former BYU wide receiver coach and current Utah wide receiver coach Guy Holliday. Trinnaman would give Utah the speedy wide receiver they need to challenge Pac-12 defenses.
Cerritos College defensive tackle David Fangupo will add depth to the Utah defensive line that lost two starters. Fangupo is surprisingly athletic for his size (6-1, 325). He played running back in high school.
The area of Utah's defense that lost by far the most talent is linebacker. All three starters, including two All-Pac-12 performers, are gone. Paul, Norris, and Whittingham took almost all of the reps at linebacker for Utah, so players like Uaea Masina, Sunia Tauteoli, etc. have not gotten many meaningful reps at the position. This position group more than any other needs immediate impact JuCos to help mitigate the loss of the arguably the most talented group of linebackers Utah football has ever had. Utah has Snow College linebacker Kurtis Taufa committed, who is rated the No. 4 JuCo inside linebacker according to the 247Sports Composite ranking. One of Utah's top remaining targets is Arizona Western College four-star linebacker David Luafatasaga, who is verbally committed to Ole Miss. Despite is commitment to Ole Miss, he just officially visited Utah. Luafatasaga, who originally hails from Honolulu, Hawaii, is rated the No. 2 JuCo outside linebacker according to the 247Sports Composite ranking. It would be huge if Utah could flip him because he is an immediate impact prospect.
Mitch Wishnowsky from Santa Barbara City College has the task of replacing Hackett at punter. Wishnowsky, like Hackett, originally hails from Australia. He is the No. 2 JuCo punter according to the 247Sports Composite ranking.