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SALT LAKE CITY — Expectations are high as the University of Utah was picked to finish second in the Pac-12 South behind Southern California at the league’s annual media days in Hollywood.
The program has become a model of consistency since joining the Pac-12 six years ago and has earned the respect of its conference peers.
But what do the Utes need to do to take the next step? They’ll hope that new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor with a dynamic offense and a top receiver transferring from a rival Pac-12 school will do just that.
“His hire, to me, was one of the most stunning hires in the country this offseason, from an assistant coach standpoint,” Pac-12 analyst Anthony Herron told KSL Sports. “For Kyle Whittingham to go outside the norm … that’s the tradeoff that he is counting on.”
But who will run Taylor’s scheme? Whittingham hasn’t named a starter yet, but incumbent Troy Williams, Tyler Huntley and former Cottonwood High star Cooper Bateman will battle through fall camp.
“I think all of those guys have shown enough to have a big impact,” Whittingham said. “When you choose the guy and say he’s our guy, you’d better be right. You’d better have enough of a body of work to back up your decision.”
Perhaps the Utes’ greatest position of strength in 2016 was the offensive line, a spot that saw four players go to the NFL draft in April.
The leadership and experience of players like Isaac Asiata will be tough to replace. But talent isn’t an issue in 2017.
“We feel like they’re very talented but short on experience,” Whittingham said. “There are going to be years where you lose three or four or all five of your offensive linemen; it’s cyclical. The two most important positions besides quarterback are offensive linemen and secondary, and that just happens to be where we took the biggest hits this year.”
In the backfield, Joe Williams is gone — out of retirement at Utah and into the NFL. For three straight seasons, the Utes had a 1,000-yard back.
Armand Shyne, Zach Moss and Devontae Henry-Cole all hope to make it four in a row.
“One guy getting a thousand yards, or three guys getting 300-400 yards each,” Whittingham said, “it really doesn’t matter.”
On the defensive side of the ball, while there are questions at cornerback, the front seven will be elite again — with defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei anchoring the middle.
Click the video above to watch the first edition of the 2017 college football preview, including one-on-one breakdowns of the Utes with Pac-12 analysts Yogi Roth, Curtis Conway and Anthony Herron.