2019 Utah Utes Football Predictions and Odds to Win National Championship
Utah is coming off a win of the Pac-12 South. The impressive part, though, is that they are in better shape this year and are in a very strong position to again play in the Pac-12 title game - with a rematch against Washington the most likely outcome. The team is deep and talented, has an enormous amount of returning experience, and is currently staring at a window that is as wide open as one gets at a place like Utah. Kyle Whittingham is a gaudy 10-2 as head coach in bowl games following a season in which he coached the whole year (he also won the Fiesta Bowl the year he took over from Urban Meyer when Meyer left for Florida). He knows how to get the most out of this team, and how to get them to peak at the right time, and he has a lot to work with here. Combine that with a very weak division this year - and a conference that isn't going to overwhelm anyone - and there is a chance that Utah is going to surprise some people - at least people who don't read this article.
2018 in a Nutshell
The 2018 season was a deceptive one for the program - and not in a good way. The 9-5 record isn't too bad on the surface, and they did win their division. But when you look at what they did, it's not too tough to make the argument that they lost to their five best opponents - or at best five of the top six. Their wins came against no-hopers like Weber State, Northern Illinois, Colorado, and BYU. Wins in-conference at Stanford and against Oregon were solid, but the rest of the wins were just games they were supposed to win. And the losses came against the two Washington teams, Arizona State, Washington again in the championship game, and Northwestern in the bowl game. There were excuses - they were missing both their top QB and top running back for the final five games of the season, for example. But this is a case of a season that looks better the less you look at it.
Key Additions and Departures
The Utes had five players drafted last year, which is a very good number for a school that recruits like this one. The top two, safety Marquise Blair in the second round, and linebacker Cody Barton in the third round, both went to the Seahawks. Seattle obviously scouted this team more than most, because they got two very nice pieces there. Blair in particular was like a linebacker in safety clothing, so he will be missed. But despite those losses, the program returns seven starters on defense and eight when they have the ball. Eight of those 15 returning starters are seniors, and five more are juniors, so the pressure is certainly on to take advantage of things this year.
On the coaching front, there was only one change, but it is an interesting one. Andy Taylor ran the offense last year but left to become head coach at Sacramento State. Replacing him is a familiar face in Utah - Andy Ludwig was the first OC Whittingham had at Utah, and his four-year tenure included the undefeated season of 2008. He has most recently been the OC at Vanderbilt the last four years. His familiarity with Whittingham should make this an easy transition.
The recruiting class was ranked seventh in the Pac-12, which is slightly on the lower side of what is possible for the team. They were fifth ranked the year prior. This is not a school that gets elite kids who are automatic stars, though, so patience and development remain the keys.
Biggest Area of Concern
Tyler Huntley is a very good QB who is particularly dangerous with his legs. They are a much better team with him in the lineup. The two biggest concerns for this team are both centered around him. First, he is one of the senior starters, so they need him to stay healthy to give this team the chance to maximize their potential. He was hurt last year, and the way he plays exposes him to injury. They need some real luck last year. Second, we can't be certain that the new offense under Ludwig will maximize Huntley's assets. Ludwig is more of an old school guy and has already stated a desire to slow the offense down to give the always strong defense the best chance to be sharp. If the team doesn't maximize Huntley's biggest assets, they are shooting themselves in the feet.
Utah Utes Schedule Analysis
They open at BYU and then against Northern Illinois and Idaho State, so they have a soft nonconference schedule to find their form before Pac-12 play starts. If they aren't 3-0 at that point, it will be a major issue. They open at USC in a game that isn't nearly as tough as it should be - I find it tough to believe in USC even a little bit right now. They also get road games at Arizona and Oregon State that feel very manageable. Their final road test is at Washington, which isn't ideal, but they were likely to be hard-pressed to beat the Huskies regardless of where they play them. At home they get Washington State, which should take a step back from last year, a UCLA team that isn't getting any better any time soon, deadbeats in Cal and Colorado, and an Arizona State team that is a bit of a wild card but shouldn't be great. This team could easily be unbeaten at home, and all but one of their road games feels solidly winnable. The schedule could absolutely be much worse.
2019-20 Utah Utes Betting Odds and Trends
BetOnline has Utah at +4000 to win the national title, which places them behind just 13 teams. That's a very solid and respectful number for this team. Bovada has them as the third choice to win the Pac-12 at +350, behind North rivals Oregon and Washington. That positions the Utes as very strong favorites to win the South - USC, the second choice in the division, is way back at +850 to win the conference.
2019-20 Utah Utes Predictions and College Football Picks
We'll know much more once we see them play at USC, but at this point I expect this veteran team to win the Pac-12 South comfortably and to give Washington a tough game in a loss in the title game. This is a very well-coached, talented team. If they can stay healthy in key positions - besides Huntley, star running back Zack Moss also missed the last five games of the year after tallying 1,096 all-purpose yards in the first nine contests - the team has a chance to dominate their division. This is far from a national contender, but they are very much a team worth paying attention to.
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