2011 Utah Utes Football Predictions and Pac-12 Futures Odds
by Trevor Whenham - 7/6/2011
After several frustrating years toiling on the fringes, the Utah Utes have finally made it to the big time. That is, of course, if you still consider the Pac-10 (and now the Pac-12) to be part of the ‘big time’. The Utes are now playing for a guaranteed BCS spot if they win their conference, and they are good enough that you can’t entirely rule out the possibility that they will get it.
Coming off a 10-3 season the Utes have clearly done everything they can to prepare for the jump in class. While they have a talented squad, there are some concerns about how they handle top-level competition — they were just 1-2 against Top 25 teams last year. While the Pac-12 won’t be the toughest of conferences this year, the average level of competition is still much higher than what the team is used to. That means that they will definitely have to take a step forward if they really want to make some noise.
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Kyle Whittingham is the real deal. He took over for Urban Meyer after Meyer left for Florida, and early on it was a rough transition — Alex Smith left for the NFL at the same time. He never had a losing season, though, and just four seasons later he went 13-0 and wound up second in the final AP poll. He has won 10 games two years in a row since then, and has a very nice 58-20 career record as a coach. He has resisted the temptation of offers from many high-profile programs that would love to have him. He’s a strong recruiter, he bleeds Utah red, and he clearly has been working a plan in order to be ready for this move up to the Pac-12. He is a major asset to the program, and immediately becomes one of the best coaches in the conference.
The offense has a wealth of returning starters, including talented QB Jordan Wynn and two very good offensive linemen. The big hole, though, could lie at running back where two departures leave them lacking depth and experience. The offense was only 23rd in the country last year against weaker competition than they will face this year, so they are going to have to be significantly better this year if they want to succeed. With that in mind, the team brought in Norm Chow as offensive coordinator. If he is the Norm Chow that was an offensive genius in his championship years at USC, and not the one that has been underwhelming in the NFL and at USC the second time and then at UCLA, then the team could really be dangerous. Chow certainly has a lot to work with in Wynn.
Whittingham is a defensive-minded coach, and with Chow on board he is freed up to spend more time on his defense. That obviously won’t hurt the team’s efforts. Whittingham has six returning starters to work with, and outstanding senior linebacker Chaz Walker heads up a linebacking corps that will strike fear into the hearts of opponents. This likely won’t be an elite defense, but somewhere in the Top 20 is definitely within their range.
2011 Utah Utes Football Schedule
The best news for the Utes is that they have managed to avoid conference powerhouses Oregon and Stanford this year. That makes things a whole lot easier. Beyond that we’ll have a very good sense of what the season will look like after just three games — after an easy opener against Montana State they play at USC and Brigham Young in consecutive weekends. . They also have a potentially tough road trip to Pitt in October. If they can survive the first 10 games then they should be able to cruise home — their last two are against likely conference doormats Washington State and Colorado.
2011 Utah Utes National Championship and Pac-12 Futures Odds
Oddsmakers are rightly very pessimistic about Utah’s chance of winning the BCS Championship — Bodog has them at 150/1. Things gets much brighter when you look at the division and the conference, though. The Pac-12 South is quite weak with USC ineligible for the postseason, and WagerWeb has Utah installed as the +165 favorites, with Arizona State close behind at +185.
2011 Utah Utes Football Predictions
I’ll be concise — I believe Utah is going to win the Pac-12 South, but they are going to be in really rough shape in the inaugural conference championship game. Nine wins would be solid, and 10 is possible. Utah has been dreaming of this step up for a long time, and I think they will be hungry and focused and looking to prove they belong.
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