SALT LAKE CITY — Here they are, the fearless and usually at least ballpark accurate season predictions for the Division 1 teams in the state of Utah.
I recognize BYU has already played one game, but nobody was picking a loss against Portland State. Any conclusions based on one game against a lower-division opponent are not worth much, anyway.
Give Kyle Whittingham credit, he is blowing off the safe route to take a shot at a much higher — albeit, potentially risky — payoff.
Instead of giving the starting quarterback position to the steady Troy Williams, who started all 13 games on last year’s 9-4 team, the Utes are going with untested sophomore Tyler Huntley. Often viewed as a heavy-handed intruder with the offense, the defensive-minded Whittingham has given new coordinator Troy Taylor full authority to go with the more mobile Huntley.
Two years removed from coaching in high school, Taylor is betting Huntley can quickly grasp an offense that intends to be far more pass-happy than in previous seasons. The good news is Utah may be finally able to roll out a fleet of Pac-12-caliber receivers, led by Oregon transfer Darren Carrington.
But the Utes are light on experience at running back and across the offensive line, which could be problematic to Taylor’s dreams of tossing the football all over the yard. After a string of great running backs in John White, Devontae Booker and Joe Williams, the Utes will start sophomore Zach Moss, who ran for 382 yards last season.
As with the defensive backfield, Utah lost four starters on the offensive line. From the first day of preseason practice, Whittingham lavished praise on the secondary, saying the unit could be better than last season. He’s been far more reserved when addressing the offensive line.
As usual, Utah is loaded up front on defense. The down linemen, which could put three players into the NFL next season, will keep the team competitive in every game.
A fourth consecutive bowl game should cap a transition season. The pick here is 7-5 as Huntley gains the experience to set up runs to win the South Division the next two seasons.
With the obvious one already done, it is easy to pick the Cougars reaching at least eight wins this season. As usual, when the independent schedule turns much easier in October, BYU should close the season on a long winning streak.
But success won’t be defined by beating the likes of Mountain West dwellers Fresno State, San Jose State and UNLV. To label this season successful, the Cougars need a split against LSU, Utah, Wisconsin and Boise State.
Most likely, being a double-digit underdog for the game in New Orleans, BYU won’t upset the Tigers. But good programs find ways to win at home, which is where the Cougars will play the other three teams.
Obviously, the BYU offense has to improve markedly from its dismal performance against Portland State. The coaches and players all said the right things this week, but seeing is believing in this case.
The defense looks solid enough to keep BYU in the games against the heavyweights. The next step is to create enough turnovers to make the task easier for a suspect offense.
With this schedule, anything less than 9-4 will be a disappointment.
The Aggies are at a crossroads — get back to .500 and qualify for a bowl game or start over.
Last season was horrible, reminiscent of the 13 consecutive losing records the program endured before going 7-6 in 2011. Finishing 3-9, the Aggies are going into this season on a five-game losing streak.
The schedule, which features nonconference opponents Wisconsin and BYU, is without question the hardest during Matt Wells’ five years as the coach. The Mountain West’s Mountain Division is loaded with quality teams this season.
The Aggies need to return to the program’s foundation, which relied on a strong running game and a stout defense. A rebuilt offensive line has to come together quickly in front of senior quarterback Kent Myers.
If the Aggies can win at Wake Forest and split at home against Colorado State and Wyoming, a 6-6 regular season is probable. Anything less means offensive and defensive coordinators from around the country can send their resumes to the athletic director in Logan.