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SALT LAKE CITY — As training camps open around the state this week, each of the college football teams has high expectations – and downright lofty in one case – but none begin practice without significant issues.
Let’s start with the best program:
Utah ushers in camp with the highest of expectations, to the point of practically bordering on the impossible to exceed. With the possibilities of qualifying for the Rose Bowl or even making the four-team playoff, the Utes almost have nowhere to go but down.
From the defensive perspective, Utah is as good as anybody in the conference and belongs in the discussion among the best nationally. The only negative is the apparent departure of Penn State transfer Manny Bowen, who was slated to start at linebacker.
To meet the incredibly high aspirations, the Utes will need the offense to be at its best since beginning Pac-12 play eight seasons ago. Years of ample evidence exists, even with most of the skill players returning, to wonder if this season’s version will be good enough.
Needing to replace two starters, the offensive line is the biggest area of concern. For all the big-play ability that quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss possess, nobody can do much of anything without adequate protection and blocking.
Last season’s offensive line, which included NFL draft pick Jackson Barton, got dominated by likes of conference power Washington. It’s hard to imagine this year’s unit will be better.
The receiving corps needs to be much improved over recent seasons. Aside from the diminutive Britain Covey, who is still working through injuries, this group drastically underachieved. Finishing ranked 11th in passing yards in the conference, as the Utes did last season, won’t lead to Pasadena on Jan. 1.
Finally, good luck in replacing kicker Matt Gay, who was absolutely brilliant the last two seasons.
For all the talent Jaren Hall displayed during spring practice, the Cougars need a healthy Zach Wilson at quarterback. Not that Wilson, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, has years of experience, but the offense can’t afford to waste what Wilson as able to build as a freshman.
In sharp contrast to the Utes, BYU is set along the offensive line. The coaching staff believes the line has multiple players with NFL potential, led by sophomore center James Empey.
The more pressing issues are at receiving and running back, where the Cougars have lacked the ability to quickly get downfield. There is decent talent at both positions, but difference-makers are necessary to succeed.
Without much fanfare, BYU has accumulated enough quality on defense to field one of its better units in recent seasons. Quality players return at all three levels to provide a solid foundation that should allow this team to compete during the difficult early-season schedule.
Coach Matt Wells and his staff are not the only significant losses off last season’s 11-2 team. While Wells took off to Texas Tech, most of the offense didn’t return, either.
Good thing quarterback Jordan Love, the state’s best player, returns for his junior season before leaving for the NFL. The term “next man up” applies in large doses to lend a helping hand to Love.
Gerold Bright, who rushed for 888 yards and 10 touchdowns, is the only proven product at Love’s disposal. To complicate matters, new coach Gary Andersen, back for his second tour in Logan, has to rebuild the entire offensive line,
There is no mystery for Utah State in training camp. With most of the defense and special teams set, much of the focus will be on developing the offense.