The Utah Utes football team got huge news today when running back Zack Moss, defensive end Bradlee Anae, defensive tackle Leki Fotu, and cornerback Julian Blackmon announced to head coach Kyle Whittingham that they would return for their senior seasons. All four standout juniors earned All-Pac-12 honors. This is fantastic news for the football program and likely means Utah will be the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12 South in 2019. Anae, Blackmon, Fotu, and Moss helped the Utes win the Pac-12 South for the first time in 2018 and could help Utah be the first program to win the South in back-to-back seasons since the ULCA Bruins accomplished the feat in 2011 and 2012 (though their South crown in 2011 was due to the rival USC Trojans being on probation).
I honestly figured at least one of these players would go. My guess would have been Moss being the most likely to go. Moss could break multiple rushing records as a senior at Utah. Moss rushed for back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons as a sophomore and a junior. With a 1,000+-yard senior season, he would be the only player in school history to top 1,000 rushing yards in three seasons. Moss, with 2,651 career rushing yards, sits fourth all-time in school history in rushing yards. Moss needs just 569 yards to break Eddie Johnson’s record of 3,219 career rushing yards. Moss is tied for fourth in school history with 23 rushing touchdowns. He needs nine rushing touchdowns to break Del Rodgers’ record of 31 career rushing touchdowns (Moss has totaled 10 or more rushing touchdowns in the last two seasons). Moss also has a chance to break John White IV’s single season records in rushing yards (1,519) and touchdowns (15) with a monster senior season.
On why he came back for his senior season, Moss said the following:
“I want to stay in school and finish my degree. I’ll be the first person in my family to get my degree and that is important to both my mom and to me. I also want to be a part of our team goals for next year and graduate with (high school teammates) Demari [Simpkins] and Tyler [Huntley].”
Anae, a first-team All-Pac-12 honoree, led the Pac-12 in sacks this year with 8.0. He figures to be the top returning pass rusher in the Pac-12 Conference. Anae was a problem off the edge for opposing tackles, and they will have to face him again next season.
Fotu was also named first-team All-Pac-12 in 2018. Fotu excels at eating blockers in the middle of the defensive line. Having him back will help Anae and other defensive ends like Mika Tafua and Maxs Tupai terrorize opposing quarterbacks.
Blackmon is a two-time All-Pac-12 honoree. He will return to a Utah secondary that graduates two starters at safety. With the depth at cornerback and losses of starters at safety, there has been talk of moving Blackmon to free safety, where I think he could earn All-Pac-12 honors as well.
Utah was a young team in 2018, and many felt that given the youth and difficult schedule, 2019 was Utah’s year, but much of that depended on players staying for their senior years. With all four back, Utah is in a great position to repeat as Pac-12 South Champions and could capture the first Pac-12 title in school history.