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Wade Denniston, USU Athletics

Patrick Kinahan: Utah college football programs hit their marks

By Patrick Kinahan, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Jan 2nd, 2019 @ 11:32am



SALT LAKE CITY — Now that the college football season has ended, save for the annual national championship game between Alabama and Clemson, it is time to review my preseason predictions for the local teams.

Collectively, accounting for the individual expectations, the three FBS teams in Utah had good seasons. Forecast-wise, my overall anticipation was Utah, Utah State and BYU would combine to go 24-12 during the regular season. They finished 25-11.

Here’s a recap of each team:

BYU

Coming off the mess that was last season, combined with a relatively strong schedule, my thought for the Cougars was 6-6. The results for some of the games were off, as usually is the case, but BYU did enough to finish with the .500 record.

Counting the bowl win over Western Michigan, the Cougars increased their win total by three games over the 2017 season. But playing the what-if game, they blew great opportunities to beat Northern Illinois, Boise State and Utah.

Credit to the coaching staff for appropriately handling the quarterback situation. Playing senior Tanner Mangum early helped BYU to record road wins over Arizona and Wisconsin and allowed freshman Zach Wilson to ease into the season.

Any optimism heading into next season centers on Wilson, who played well for a half against the Utes and then completed all 18 of his pass attempts in the bowl win. The task now is to provide him with a sufficient running attack.

As usual, as an independent, BYU cannot ease into the next season. The first month features games against Utah, Southern California, Tennessee and Washington.

Utah

My expectations for the Utes were to go 9-3, which followed to form. But they overachieved forecasts in winning the South Division for the first time in eight years in the Pac-12.

The fact that the division was weak this year — only two of the six teams qualified for a bowl game — doesn’t detract from Utah’s accomplishments. After losing quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss to season-ending injuries in November, the Utes still managed to beat Oregon and Colorado to claim the top spot.

“When you look at the body of work, we took a step forward,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We can line up and play with anybody in the Pac-12. Took us eight years to get to this point.”

They are there now. The Utes most likely will be the favorite to win the South next season.

As much as the Utes accomplished this season, it did end in disappointing fashion. Obviously, they did not play nearly well enough in their losses to Washington in the conference championship game and to Northwestern in the Holiday Bowl.

Utah State

At 10-2, the Aggies were one game better than my prediction. Overall, including the bowl win to finish 11-2, it was an excellent season, but one that cost them coach Matt Wells.

Like Gary Andersen did when the Aggies won 11 games in 2012, Wells left for a Power Five job. As soon as the regular season ended, Wells took off recruiting — only this time it was for the Texas Tech job. But the coach’s orchestrated departure does not diminish Utah State’s great run, which included drilling BYU for the second consecutive season.

If such an award existed, Utah State quarterback Jordan Love was the state’s most valuable player. The sophomore, who threw 28 touchdown passes and only five interceptions, was stellar in all but the Wyoming game, which the Aggies still won.

The NFL prospect directed a high-flying offense that scored more than 40 points in nine games. The Aggies also had the state’s best collection of receivers and running backs.

Even though Wells took most of his staff to Lubbock, Texas, the Aggies won’t be a one-hit wonder. After biding his time as a defensive line coach for one season at Utah, Andersen will return to the successful program he built starting in 2009.

Patrick Kinahan

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