It’s that time year again, when vulnerability comes in the form of annual predictions for the top three college football programs in Utah.
Here are the two options that can happen with these forecasts – they will be either close or way off. In the end, as educated as the predictions may seem, they are only guesses.
Never before, at least since leaving the Mountain West Conference eight years ago, have expectations been this high for the Utes in the Pac-12. Given such lofty standards, anything less than a serious run at winning the South Division would be considered a disappointment.
As optimistic as the Utes are, a sentiment shared by the majority of the local media, they will have to overcome the toughest schedule in the conference. As part of the rotation with the North Division, the Utes don’t play Oregon State and Cal, two teams that didn’t make a bowl game last season.
Arizona and USC, the other two leading contenders in the South, get to skip either Washington or Stanford, or both in the case of the Wildcats. With a front-loaded schedule that includes Washington, Stanford, Arizona and USC in their first five conference games, Utah could be buried in the standings before Halloween.
Since joining the conference, the Utes have made several deep runs only to be foiled by an ineffective offense late in those seasons. Tyler Huntley, returning for his second season as the starting quarterback, is expected to change those fortunes.
No doubt a dynamic runner, Huntley has yet to prove he can make enough plays with his arm. But the Utes believe this season will be different even though they lose last season’s top two receivers.
The staples of Kyle Whittingham’s program – the running game, defense and special teams – all figure to rank among the best in the conference. In the case of the secondary and kicking games, both belong in the discussion as best in the nation.
The roster’s talent is legitimate to win the division, which isn’t expected to be strong. A fortuitous bounce here or there could be the difference.
Prediction: 9-3 (6-3)
Without hesitation, it is easy to say this team will be better than last year. But to keep perspective, it can’t get much worse.
With few exceptions, many of the key figures return off of last season’s offense that ranked among the worst in BYU history. Chief among them is quarterback Tanner Mangum, who bottomed out as a junior last season and needed almost all of training camp this month to hold off upstart freshman Zach Wilson.
This difference this season, if there is one, will come from the revamped coaching staff on offense. Coordinators Jeff Grimes and Aaron Roderick have to find a way to allow Mangum to revert back to the performance he displayed as a freshman.
The more experienced coaching staff will put Mangum and the offense in a better position to succeed, although to what extent remains a mystery. In this case, the less complex the better.
Losing linebacker Fred Warner to the NFL won’t help the defense, but the unit should have enough talent to give BYU a chance to improve upon last season’s four wins. If nothing else, the secondary will be better.
For all the coaching changes, ultimately it will still come down to the players. They ought to show enough to break even.
Flirting around .500 won’t cut it this season, not with almost all of last year’s starters returning on both sides of the ball. For a team that has endured three consecutive losing seasons, two of which were 6-7, it is time for substantial improvement.
Each position has the experience necessary to get the Aggies back on the winning side. It comes down to the players finding a way to win close games – last season the Aggies lost three games by less than six points, including in overtime to New Mexico State in their bowl game.
The schedule breaks well for the Aggies, who don’t play the West Division’s expected two best teams in San Diego State and Fresno State. But Boise State still stands in the way of winning the Mountain Division.
Prediction: 8-4 (6-2)