The cyclical nature of college athletics creates an environment where every year new players are thrust into the spotlight whether they are ready or not. Players come in, players go out. The roster of an NCAA football team is in constant flux as coaching staffs churn the roster looking for the cream to make it's way to the top. As with every season, Utah lost some key players from last season's 10-3 team. This will open the door for some new faces to make a name for themselves on the gridiron next season. Every year on every team new stars emerge. Who are some candidates to take the next step with Utah?
On offense three receivers are intriguing heading into this season, two because of their speed and one because of his size. Cory Butler-Byrd played some on the offensive side of the ball last season, making two starts at receiver, however he primarily was a defensive back last year coming in on offense situationally to run deep routes. This season the coaching staff is looking for help at the receiver position and Butler-Byrd's speed makes him dangerous as he transitions to a more offensive role.
Last season he displayed his speed, leading the team in kick returns with 223 yards on eight returns, taking one 98 yards to the house against Fresno State. At receiver he caught only one pass last season, a 54 yard bomb for a touchdown against California. He had several other balls thrown his way last season (mostly deep balls) but could not connect. He has shown the wheels to get behind the defense and was a dynamic athlete on defense last season. With more of a chance at receiver this year, Butler-Byrd could become the home run threat Utah has been looking for.
Kyle Fulks is another burner for Utah that could really emerge this season as an important player. Fulks transferred in to Utah last season from Blinn junior college but didn't see much of the field. Coach Kyle Whittingham made some comments this spring that in hindsight, they probably should have found some more opportunities for Fulks last season.
At 5-9 180 lbs. Fulks could step into the slot receiver role Britain Covey held last season. Fulks is not only fast, but quick with good body control. He has the ability to get behind the defense, but can also make plays underneath and over the middle, something Covey thrived at as well. In a receiving group that has been starved for play makers in recent seasons, Fulks should be given every opportunity this season to ignite the offense.
The last receiver who could potentially step into a big role this season is much different than the previous two players. Caleb Repp is a big body standing 6-4 and was considered somewhat of a "tweener" between receiver and tight end. He came on the scene last season against Oregon catching the first two passes of his college career for touchdowns. Repp has the ability to use his big frame to his advantage in the red zone and on jump balls. Despite not having much in the speed department, Repp should be able to thrive in the intermediate passing game giving whoever Utah's new quarterback is a big target on third down.
Repp had a very good spring building good rapport with the quarterbacks and was very productive in team scrimmages. He's not the most athletic guy on the team, but don't be surprised if you hear his name called often this coming fall.
Defensively the loss of all three starting linebackers is probably the most glaring hole on the team. Fortunately, Utah was able to steal a highly touted junior college transfer away from Ole Miss on signing day named David Luafatasaga. A 6-4 225 outside linebacker from Arizona Western Junior College, Luafatasaga was a four star recruit highly sought after by the likes of Ole Miss, Nebraska and fellow Pac-12 teams, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Cal, Washington State and Oregon State. Without much experience at the linebacker position, Luafatasaga figures to step in immediately as a starter and potentially a leader for that group.
Another linebacker that could become a familiar name this season is Sunia Tauteloli. A sophomore, Tauteoli recorded only 1 tackle last season against USC. He impressed Whittingham during the spring however and appears set to replace Jared Norris at the Mac linebacker spot. Chris Hart and Cody Barton also showed flashes of promise this spring, but it was Tauteoli who impressed the most.
Lastly, this is guy you could argue is already a pretty important piece on Utah's defense, but expect him to step up into an even bigger role this season. Pita Taumoepenu has made a name for himself as a pass rush specialist. With Hunter Dimick and Kylie Fitts playing the same position he probably won't be listed as a starter, but Utah likes to continually rotate players on the defensive line, so he will see plenty of action. Last season he finished second on the team with six sacks behind only Fitts. This year Taumoepenu should continue to cause nightmares for opposing quarterbacks but he has also been working on adding strength and could see more time on non-passing downs. Last year he had only 9 tackles, expect that number to jump this season.