The 2016 version of Utah's football team will head into the season with maybe more talent on the roster than the program has ever seen, but also with a lot of new faces and unproven players. Utah will be replacing a four year starter at quarterback, an All Pac-12 running back, and veteran leadership at the receiver position. With so many new projected starters let's take a look at who the best players are at each position group. Today we'll look at the offense.
Hard to say who the best is considering the coaching staff is still trying to figure it out themselves. As of now, coach Kyle Whittingham says all are on equal footing heading into Fall camp. When looking at the three quarterbacks in question, Brandon Cox, Tyler Huntley and Troy Williams each has something to like.
Cox has experience in the program is a good athlete and has looked good in his opportunities this spring. The same could be said for Huntley, only take away the experience and add big time potential. However Williams is the only one of the three that has made a start at the FBS level (with Washington). He also has a full season of playing time under his belt at Santa Monica College, accounting for 38 touchdowns. Williams was also the most highly rated of the three coming out of high school being rated the no. 1 dual threat quarterback of his class. Prior to developing a "sore throwing arm" in the spring, Williams was considered to be the most impressive. I expect Williams to again assert himself as the best of the three in Fall camp.
After Devontae Booker was lost for the season with a knee injury, Joe Williams stepped in and performed amazingly well considering he had only twelve rushing attempts prior to Booker's injury. Williams quickly established himself as not just a capable Pac-12 running back, but a pretty dang good one. In his two starts to close out the season, he ran for 121 yards on 26 carries against UCLA and 187 yards on 34 carries against Colorado. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry in those two games. The only issue was his ability to hold onto the ball. In the Las Vegas Bowl against the team down south, he again had a strong performance going for 91 yards on 25 carries and scoring two touchdowns.
So who else might challenge Williams as the best back for the Utes? Dennis Erickson has done a nice job identifying talent and recruiting at the position. Marcel Brooks-Brown returns and there is newly signed Juco recruit Armand Shyne, not to mention four star freshman Zack Moss. The biggest challenger however figures to be Troy McCormick back from a major knee injury he suffered last spring.
McCormick doesn't have a lot of playing experience, but has been electric when he has seen the field. In 2014 Las Vegas Bowl McCormick ran for 86 yards on just 5 carries displaying his game breaking ability. He figured to factor heavily into the team's game plan a year ago before his injury and figures to do the same this year. The speed of McCormick is probably his biggest threat to opposing defenses, but Williams has actually been clocked faster in the 40 yard dash and has a bigger frame to work with at 5-11, 200 lbs. compared to McCormick's 5-9 172 lb. frame. While size isn't everything in a back, it might make a difference in durability. Williams and McCormick are close in talent, but Williams has proved it on the field last year, giving him the advantage.
Lots of unproven talent at this position with Kenneth Scott graduated and Britain Covey on his mission. The most experienced player returning is true sophomore Tyrone Smith with 18 receptions for 193 yards and no touchdowns. Tim Patrick who had 16 catches for 177 yards in 2014 will also return after sitting out last year with an injury. Both could start outside for Utah this season, with a smaller, faster receiver such as Cory Butler-Byrd or Kyle Fulks stepping up in the slot position. Utah has a ton of size at the position with Patrick, Smith, Raelon Singleton, Caleb Repp, and Alec Dana all standing 6-3 or taller. Guys like Kenric Young, Siaosi Wilson will also be factors for Guy Holliday's group.
With so little experience among this group it's hard to make a case for any one receiver in this group as standing above the rest. Cory Butler-Byrd was the highest rated recruit of the bunch and has a touchdown reception, so you could make an argument for him, but in all honesty this group is a huge question mark. Guy Holliday definitely has a good group to work with and it will be exciting to see who steps up this year.
This group might be the deepest group on offense. Evan Moeai, Siale Fakailoatonga, Harrison Handley and Ken Hampel all saw game action last season. Handley saw the most playing time last year in large part due to injuries to Moeai and Fakailoatonga, but Handley did well for himself catching 21 passes for 286 yards and four touchdowns. Handley really emerged in the last five weeks as a reliable pass catcher. Blocking wise it's hard to beat Fakailoatonga who was sorely missed in the run game after being injured midway through the season.
Evan Moeai was the starter to begin the season before suffering a season ending injury in the opening game. Moeai has a good blend of pass catching and blocking ability which sprung him to the top of the depth chart last year. Wallace Gonzalez also looked good this spring. The competition is fierce and no one has really separated themselves from the pack yet. Handley however has spent time bulking up this offseason and worked on improving his physicality and improving his run blocking. At 6-5, 245lbs. Handley has the ideal frame for a tight end and if his blocking is improved to go with his natural ability as a receiver, Handley could be the best of the bunch.
This is a group returning five players with starting experience, however they struggled in the spring while missing right tackle J.J. Dielman and incoming Juco transfer Garrett Bolles. That being said, Dielman is Utah's best offensive lineman.
An All Pac-12 selection and Phil Steele preseason All Pac-12 selection, Dielman is a force in the run game at right tackle for the Utes. The 6-5 300 lb. tackle had one of the top rated seasons for a right tackle last season as rated by Pro Football Focus, and is rated eighth in the country among returning right tackles by the same metric. Incoming tackle Garrett Bolles has the potential to step in and be one of the best players on the team as well, but until he shows it on the field during the season, Dielman gets the nod as the top offensive lineman for Utah.
We'll take a look at the defensive side of the ball later this week.