Athlon Sports released a ranking of every college football team for the 2016 season, and they have the Utah football team at No. 32. Alabama tops their list, followed by Florida State, Ohio State, Clemson, Michigan, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Notre Dame, LSU, and Ole Miss in the top 10 (notice the lack of any Pac-12 team). Washington at No. 11 is their highest rated Pac-12 team, followed by Stanford (No. 12), UCLA (No. 14), USC (No. 22), Oregon (No. 23), WSU (No. 30), Utah (No. 32), Cal (No. 44), Arizona State (No. 46), Arizona (No. 50), Colorado (No. 61), and Oregon State (No. 90). As is often the case with preseason rankings, some teams are ranked about right, while some are too high and others are too low.
Who does Athlon have too high?
Despite being a Washington Huskies fan, I think No. 11 and atop the Pac-12 is too high. Yes, I think UW will be a lot better this year and will likely finish in the top 25, but they are still a young team and have not beaten the elite teams in the North (only defeating Stanford once in 2012 and failing Oregon every year since the conference expanded to 12 teams). I think both of the LA schools are overrated. UCLA returns Josh Rosen at quarterback, but most of his favorite targets are gone. The Bruins overall only return 11 starters. USC brings back a lot of starters (15), but they have serious questions on the defensive line and have to replace a three-year starter at quarterback in Cody Kessler. USC also will have to face one of if not the toughest schedules in the nation, meaning the losses could pile up for the Trojans. Oregon proved to be two different teams in 2015: they were excellent with Vernon Adams Jr. and struggled mightily without him. Adams Jr. is not back in 2016, nor is Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year defensive end DeForest Buckner. Oregon gets a lot of talent back at the skill positions (including running back Royce Freeman), but they only return 11 starters overall. Arizona State has to totally rebuild their secondary in 2016. They only return 10 starters (tied for the lowest in the Pac-12). The Sun Devils have a lot of talent returning at running back, but they have to replace their starting quarterback and three of their top four pass catchers. Like Arizona State, Cal returns only 10 starters. They lose 2016 NFL Draft No. 1 pick quarterback Jared Goff and their top six wide receivers, which is not good for a team that runs the "Bear Raid" offense. Former Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb will help ease the loss of Goff, but Cal has a lot of other holes to fill around him.
Who does Athlon have too low?
Athlon only has Arizona at No. 50, but the Wildcats return 16 starters (the second-most in the Pac-12). Arizona struggled defensively last season, but a new defensive staff, led by former Boise State defensive coordinator Marcel Yates, that gets nine starters back could work wonders for Arizona's defense. Oregon State struggled mightily in 2015, but the good news for 2016 is there is no room to go but up (as they finished 0-9 in the Pac-12 in 2015).The Beavers get 14 starters back. Utah State transfer quarterback Darrell Garretson will also help OSU improve. Gary Andersen has had success everywhere he has coached, so I am sure he will turn the Beavers around. The Beavers may still finish in the Pac-12 cellar, but they will likely be better than the No. 90 team in the country.
What about Utah?
While I would not be surprised to see Utah finish the season higher than No. 32, I think it is appropriate for a preseason ranking. Utah enters 2016 with quite a few question marks. They have consistently fielded one of the poorest passing attacks in the Pac-12, and they lose their starting quarterback, backup quarterback, and top three receiving yardage leaders from 2015 (Britain Covey to a mission and Kenneth Scott and Devontae Booker to graduation). Their offense was centered around Booker in 2014 and 2015. Booker is off to the NFL to play for the Denver Broncos, and Utah will need to find a way to replace him, as the offense struggled mightily after he suffered an injury against Arizona towards the end of the 2015 season. Utah also loses all three starting linebackers from 2015. In spring football, Utah's offensive line was not as strong as most expected. Utah does bring back a lot of talent in the secondary and defensive line. The Utes should once again field an excellent defense, the biggest questions are about the offense. If the offense struggles in 2016, Utah could finish in the middle of the Pac-12, but if Utah shows improvement on the offense, they could win the Pac-12 South.
What do you think of Athlon's rankings of Utah and the Pac-12?