It was an up and down first season in the Pac-12 for the Utah Utes. Many questioned how the Utes would fare in their first season in a BCS conference, and Utah exceeded the expectations of most as they came within a game of playing for the Pac-12 title.
Utah started the season 3-4 before rattling off four straight victories, putting themselves in a position to win the Pac-12 South and play for the inaugural Pac-12 title. However, Utah suffered a heartbreaking loss at home to rival Colorado, 17-14, to knock them out of the title game.
The season did end well for Utah as they defeated Georgia Tech 30-27 in the Sun Bowl to finish the season 8-5.
Utah Football Preview
Offensive Starters Returning: 9
Defensive Starters Returning: 7
Star Lotulelei, DT: Lotulelei might be the most underrated player in the country as the senior defensive tackle is projected by many as a top five pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Lutulelei was named first team All-Pac-12 won the 2011 Morris Trophy as the conference's best defensive lineman. Lotulelei has played in every game for the Utes over the past two seasons and at 320-pounds, he is a dominant force in the middle of the Utah defense. Lotulelei made 44 tackles in 2011 including nine tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
John White, RB: The senior for Torrence, California, ran for 1,519 yards in his first season, breaking the 29-year-old Utah single season rushing yards record. White was named Second Team All-Pac-12 and averaged 116.8 yards per game for the Utes. White was a workhorse for Utah, averaging 24 carries a game in 2011, and he figures to be a key cog in the Utah offense in 2012.
Reggie Dunn, WR: Dunn started eight games at wide receiver in 2011 for Utah, catching 15 balls for 211 yards. The senior also had 173 rushing yards and led the team in kickoff return yards with 614. Dunn played two seasons at Compton Community College before transferring to Utah and he has played in every game the past two seasons. Dunn is a duel-threat player, and will have an impact in both the passing and rushing game.
Utah returns nine starters from an offense that ranked dead last in the conference in total offense. Utah was last in the conference in passing offense and seventh in rushing offense in 2011.
Utah will benefit from the return of quarterback Jordan Wynn, who started the first four games of 2011 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury against Washington. Wynn threw 17 touchdowns in 10 starts in 2010 and through four games in 2011, had six touchdown passes and 727 yards passing.
Utah has solid depth at wide receiver with seniors Devonte Christopher Reggie Dunn and Luke Matthews. Christopher led Utah in receiving yards and receptions per game, finishing up with 42 receptions for 663 yards and five touchdowns in 2011. Matthews started seven games in last season and over his three-year career for Utah, has only missed one game.
John White will carry the load on the ground for Utah, after gaining over 1,500 yards in 2011. Sophomore Harvey Langi is listed as the backup for White on the preseason depth chart. Utah will go into 2012 with a veteran offensive line as two juniors and two seniors are expected to start. Redshirt freshman right tackle Daniel Nelson will be the only underclassman expected to start in 2012.
The 2012 Utah defense ranked third in the Pac-12 in total defense and first in scoring defense. Utah was also fifth in sacks and first in turnovers in 2011.
Utah returns perhaps the best defensive tackle combination in the conference in seniors David Kruger and Star Lotulelei, as the two combined for 66 tackles in 2012. Junior Joe Kruger moves from left to right end, Kruger had five tackles for loss and three sacks in 2011.
Utah will have two new starters at linebacker in 2012 as sophomores Jacoby Hale and V.J. Fehoko move into starting roles, the two combined for just 11 tackles in 2012. Former walk-on Trevor Reilly started eight games at linebacker in 2011, Reilly tied for fourth in the conference with four forced fumbles in 2011.
The secondary is led by senior cornerback Ryan Lacy, who was named Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 in 2011 after finishing with 10 pass breakups and two interceptions. Junior college transfer Mo Lee is listed as the second starting corner for Utah. After being recruited to play wide receiver, the senior from Miami, Florida, made 29 tackles and six pass breakups in three starts last season.
Utah won't have to leave the state of Utah for their non-conference schedule, as Utah faces Northern Colorado and BYU at home, with a road game against Utah State sandwiched in the middle. BYU will be tough as it is a rivalry game, but at home Utah, with 16 returning starters, should get the job done.
Utah does not play Oregon or Stanford in 2012, meaning they will have one of the easiest Pac-12 schedule of any team in the conference. Utah has difficult road games against Pac-12 South rivals Arizona State (Sept. 29) and UCLA (Oct. 13) which will not be cake walks, as both teams have talent, however both teams are in transition in 2012 with new coaches.
Utah's biggest game of the season comes on a Thursday night in primetime against USC, a game could very well decide who will win the Pac-12 South. Utah faces USC in Salt Lake City, but the Trojans will be too talented for Utah. Another difficult game for Utah will be a trip to the great Northwest to face the Washington Huskies (Nov. 13).
A road trip to Boulder, Colorado, the day after Thanksgiving to face Colorado in the season finale will be a challenge as the Buffalos beat Utah in Salt Lake City last season. Final season record: 8-4.
Next up in our Pac-12 previews is the UCLA Bruins.