The official definition of X-Factor is "a variable in a given situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome." In football, the term is used describe a player on any given team whose performance most heavily factors into whether or not their team is successful. For the past couple seasons two players stood out as x-factors for Utah, both Devontae Booker on offense and Gionni Paul on defense. Moving into 2016, both have moved on from the program and so a new player will emerge as the x-factor for this year's team. Looking at this team's makeup, I believe that player to be Booker's presumed replacement, Joe Williams.
Unlike in recent years, the 2016 offense has the potential to actually be a strength of the team. Based on the team's performance through fall camp, the offense appears to be playing at a level above previous year's additions. The quarterback competition appears to be firming up with Troy Williams taking first team reps consistently and new receivers coach Guy Holliday appears to have made an impact on what has been a woeful position group over the past couple years.
With the emergence of Williams at quarterback and a number of great players on defense, why is Joe Williams at running back the x-factor? Even though the coaching staff wants to throw the ball more this season, make no mistake, Utah is still a run based offense. The effectiveness of Utah's offense may not rely on the running game as much as it did the past two seasons, but the run game will still be the engine of the offense.
Dennis Erickson has remarked that this year's group of running backs is one of the best groups he's coached. Despite losing Booker, the talent pool is deep at the position, with impressive freshman Zack Moss and Troy McCormick now fully healed from his knee injury suffered a year ago. The best of the group is Williams though, who has earned high praise from the coaches this summer.
Williams is the fastest guy on the team, clocking in the best 40 time in spring conditioning drills and has already strung together a pair of 100+ yard performances to end last season. At over 200 lbs and running a 4.35 40 time, Williams is a remarkable athlete. As senior this season, he is one of the older guys on the team and with some meaningful playing experience under his belt has the opportunity to be a team leader.
A Williams and Williams backfield (Troy and Joe) while inexperienced in the Pac-12, could be one of the most athletic backfields in the conference and both have a lot of playing experience at the juco level. While Troy Williams will be the most visible at the quarterback position, Joe Williams performance will go a long way in determining the team's success this season.
Utah has struggled in the throw game and needs a strong running game to open up the pass. Williams will be the workhorse back for the Utes this season and his ability to keep defenses keyed in on stopping the run will open things down field for the passing game. Williams is a legitimate home run threat every time he touches the ball and showed the ability to be an every down back last season.
This year's Utah team has a chance to be special, but in order for that to happen, the offense must become more balanced and a strength for the team. The Utes appear to have the talent at quarterback and receiver to take that next step, but everything still hinges on the run game. Joe Williams play might be the most important factor in whether this team finds the success it is capable of this year.