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Utah football comes in at No. 17 in early S&P+ rankings

Utah football is going to be dealing with more expectations going into 2019.

NCAA Football: Utah at Arizona State Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn't long ago that advanced stats wasn’t a big fan of the Utah football program, usually ranking it well below its peers. That never stopped Coach Whitt and crew from bucking those stats often times and over performing. This past season was really the first time that Utah was looked at favorably in S&P+ as well as ESPN’s FPI. Utah was rated ahead of a vast majority of their opponents, other than most of the ones they lost too. Going into 2019, the Utes are returning a ton of skill, brining in a nice recruiting class, and have a favorable schedule. You combine those factors and S&P+ looks at the Utes favorably this coming season as well. Below is the explanation on how the metric works by Bill Connelly:

  • For recruiting, I create a rating based on these weighted four-year recruiting rankings. The weighting (67 percent this year’s class, 15 percent last year’s, 15 percent the year before that, three percent the year before that) is based on what makes the ratings most predictive.
  • For returning production, I take each team’s returning offensive and defensive production(which are on different scales) and apply projected changes to last year’s ratings. The ranking you see below is not where they rank in returning production but where they would rank after the projected changes are applied to last year’s S&P+ averages. This piece makes up a vast majority of the overall S&P+ projections.
  • For recent history, I’ve found that getting a little weird predicts pretty well. This number isn’t a strict five-year average — last year’s ratings already carry heavy weight from the returning production piece. Instead, what you see below is a projection based solely off of seasons two to five years ago. Recent history doesn’t carry much weight in the projections, but it serves as a reflection of overall program health. We overreact to one year’s performance sometimes.

With all that said, the Utes are ranked No. 17 in the first round of S&P+ rankings, two spots behind Washington. Where the Utes get dinged a little bit is on their recruiting, which, as of now, isn’t a top-25 program. They put a ton of Utah’s stock in returning production, which they should. The Utah offense is returning most of their playmakers, although a little work will needed on the offensive line. S&P+ puts the Utah offense at No. 27, again two spots behind Washington. With Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss back, and if they stay healthy in 2019, the offense could be potent.

The defense has to reload at some key positions, but with the announcement that Julian Blackmon is moving to safety, I actually feel much better about the defense than I did a few days ago. It’s a Kyle Whittingham defense, so it will be stout. The Utes are No. 20 in S&P+ for defense, four spots behind Washington.

Going into the season, the Utes are going to have to deal with something they haven’t ever dealt with before, being the favorite in the Pac-12 South. Expectations will be sky high for this group, and I have no doubt that they will be the preseason pick to win the division. Shoot, I saw a tweet from some publication somewhere that they may be the Pac-12 favorite. If they stay healthy, I think they should be the favorite.

Overall, the Pac-12 improved a bit in the S&P+ rankings, and are ahead of the ACC... because while the Pac-12 has gotten a bad rap, the ACC really is only one team and then a bunch of dogs. The Pac-12 I think will be deep this year, but there will be a strong top 13 of the league with Utah, Washington, Oregon and Stanford.

To view the full S&P+ rankings click this link: