2013 Utah football's 10 things to know: Stemming the tide (or trying to)

Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

After a season marred by injury and inconsistency, Kyle Whittingham's Utes head into 2013 with drastically lower expectations than they had a year ago. Can a pair of identity changes -- Dennis Erickson joining the offensive staff, speed becoming a larger defensive focus -- change course for a suddenly reeling program? For more Utes, visit Block U.

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. A poorly-timed slide

When Utah was announced as the 12th member of the Pac-12, we heard a lot about the impact such a move might have on recruiting for a program that was already thriving on the field. From late-September 2007 to early-December 2010, Kyle Whittingham's Utes went 39-4; they were in the middle of a nine-year bowl streak, had finished the 2008 season second in the AP polls after going undefeated and whipping Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl ('Bama is 4-0 in bowls/BCS title games since then), had finished 10-3 in 2009, and began 2010 8-0, reaching sixth in the country.

They had done all of this from a mid-major conference, and now they were going to start recruiting at a major level? Utah's ceiling seemed awfully high.

Sure enough, Utah's recruiting rankings have taken a turn for the better. From 2005-10, Utah's average recruiting ranking, via Rivals.com, was 53.5; only once did the Utes rank higher than 44th. In the last three years, the average has improved to 36.3; the 2012 class ranked 28th.

Let's just say that the 2012 class needs to live up to its billing, and then some. The Pac-12 bump better be real because the Utes need some help. In terms of F/+ rankings, Utah ranked 30th, 11th, 29th, and 28th from 2007-10, a consistent top-30 team. But a late-season funk in 2010 carried over into 2011, their first in the Pac-12. Utah fell to 55th that year, and although the Utes still managed eight wins and another bowl bid, the bowl streak ended in 2012, when they sank to 66th and 5-7. Injuries did Utah no major favor in 2012, but the Utes just didn't have enough options, and now the depth chart has been severely thinned out by graduation and attrition.

If Utah is going to rally in the next year or two, it is going to be around members of these recent recruiting classes. Hopefully they're good ones.

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 5-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 66
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
30-Aug Northern Colorado 41-0 W 20.2 - 10.3 W
7-Sep at Utah State 20-27 L 23.4 - 21.4 W
15-Sep BYU 24-21 W 22.0 - 18.9 W
22-Sep at Arizona State 7-37 L 20.4 - 31.8 L
4-Oct USC 28-38 L 21.2 - 35.8 L
13-Oct at UCLA 14-21 L 23.3 - 22.2 W
20-Oct at Oregon State 7-21 L 18.1 - 19.1 L
27-Oct California 49-27 W 26.0 - 37.8 L
3-Nov Washington State 49-6 W 35.9 - 18.7 W
10-Nov at Washington 15-34 L 14.7 - 34.8 L
17-Nov Arizona 24-34 L 24.9 - 28.6 L
23-Nov at Colorado 42-35 W 21.2 - 33.2 L
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 26.7 76 25.1 50
Adj. Points Per Game 22.6 111 26.1 46

2. A few hints, but not really

Of course, that's the numbers perspective. The anecdotal perspective basically tells us the same thing. Utah made the jump from the Mountain West to the Pac-12 last season, struggled at quarterback, fell stagnant on offense and STILL almost made it to the Pac-12 title game. A 17-14 upset loss to Colorado, fueled in part by three missed field goals, prevented that from happening, but an 8-5 debut season and a ton of returning experience have made folks in Salt Lake City pretty optimistic. Like, really, really optimistic. Head coach Kyle Whittingham? Excited. The folks at Block U? Thinking big. The local media? Saying "loaded" a lot. [...]

[W]ith another strong defense, another Top 25 special teams unit, and potentially the most favorable schedule in the Pac-12, you don't really have to trust the offense to expect quite a few wins for the Utes this fall. If the offense does improve -- if [John] White truly establishes himself as an elite back, if [quarterback Jordan] Wynn proves his allegedly high ceiling, etc. -- then a season with double-digit wins is not only a possibility; it is of high probability.

Expectations were high last year. (And in my defense, Paul Myerberg's expectations were equally high.) And Utah didn't even come close to meeting them.

I was high on the defense, and the Utes plummeted from 16th in Def. F/+ to 57th. I figured the offense would improve, and it did, but only from 111th to 89th. Wynn couldn't overcome constant shoulder injuries and retired from football two weeks into the season. (He's now a graduate assistant under former Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow at Hawaii.) Jon Hays succeeded him, completed 18 of 27 passes for 196 yards and two scores in a win over BYU, then struggled and was replaced by a true freshman, Travis Wilson. Running back John White was limited with injury and mostly ineffective when healthy, at least until late in the season. The offensive line struggled. No receiver stepped up consistently.

In other words, the offense was not nearly good enough to account for a defense that faded rather dramatically

Adj. Points Per Game (first 3 games): Utah 21.9, Opponent 16.9 (plus-5.0)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 6 games): Opponent 27.6, Utah 24.2 (minus-3.4)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 3 games): Opponent 32.2, Utah 20.3 (minus-11.9)

A lack of continuity kills. Only two of Utah's top four defensive linemen, two of the top five linebackers, and one of 12 defensive backs played in all 12 games for the Utes last season. The effect was obvious. To say the least, it is difficult to field an effective team when its supposed strength (the D) is basically playing its second string.

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 108 95 104 92
RUSHING 93 102 111 94
PASSING 100 79 70 79
Standard Downs 111 108 109
Passing Downs 66 84 51
Redzone 52 83 23
Q1 Rk 107 1st Down Rk 107
Q2 Rk 71 2nd Down Rk 79
Q3 Rk 78 3rd Down Rk 94
Q4 Rk 115

3. An interesting combination

Kyle Whittingham made some waves last year by bringing on Brian Johnson, his 2008 starting quarterback, as offensive coordinator when Norm Chow left to take the Hawaii job. As I've written before, it has been a while since Chow had fielded a particularly good offense anywhere, and his 2011 Utes offense set a low bar. Johnson's 2012 offense cleared the bar, but only by so much. The Utes were still awful at running the football, and while the passing game improved, it was still below average.

Whittingham made an equally interesting hire this past offseason. In early February, he brought on former Miami and Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson as co-coordinator. It's been a long time since the 66-year-old Erickson was anything but a head coach (1981 at San Jose State, to be exact), but in theory he could bring to the table exactly what Utah lacked last season. The Utes played at a slow pace and were in no way aggressive with the football, racking up few big plays and playing seemingly passive football on standard downs. That Travis Wilson was able to pull off a little bit of passing-downs magic as a true freshman is exciting, but he faced far too many passing downs; all Utah quarterbacks did, for that matter.

If Erickson can introduce some urgency, aggressiveness, and identity into the Utah offense, that could only be considered a good thing. It's possible that the run game won't be any better, but Erickson has had plenty of strong passing games over the years. His presence should be good for Travis Wilson.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Travis Wilson 6'6, 240 So. *** (5.7) 128 204 1,311 62.7% 7 6 14 6.4% 5.6
Jon Hays


63 104 653 60.6% 7 2 8 7.1% 5.5
Jordan Wynn


25 38 247 65.8% 2 1 3 7.3% 5.3
Adam Schulz 6'1, 205 So. NR 2 2 52 100.0% 0 0 0 0.0% 26.0
Brandon Cox 6'2, 200 Fr. *** (5.7)








Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
John White RB 218 1,041 4.8 4.3 8 -9.8
Kelvin York RB 5'11, 220 Sr. **** (5.8) 60 273 4.6 2.8 3 -4.5
Travis Wilson QB 6'6, 240 So. *** (5.7) 50 133 2.7 2.7 4 -10.9
Jarrell Oliver RB 5'8, 213 So. *** (5.7) 23 52 2.3 0.9 0 -5.5
Lucky Radley RB 5'8, 187 Jr. *** (5.6) 15 46 3.1 1.5 1 -1.3
Dres Anderson WR 6'1, 187 Jr. *** (5.6) 14 83 5.9 2.9 0 +2.3
Reggie Dunn WR 13 58 4.5 6.1 0 +0.1
James Poole RB 6'0, 196 So. NR 9 47 5.2 1.9 0 +0.2
Karl Williams RB 6'0, 243 Sr. ** (5.2) 7 37 5.3 4.2 0 +0.5
Devontae Booker RB 5'11, 205 Jr. *** (5.5)





4. Any hope for the run game?

In 2011, Utah ranked 108th in Rushing S&P+ and 107th in Adj. Line Yards, just putrid numbers for a team that was basing its offensive identity on the ground game. In 2012, the Utes passed a little bit more but still couldn't run, ranking 102nd and 93rd in the two categories, respectively. Technically there was improvement there, but this was still an awful running game; and in 2013, John White and three multi-year starting linemen are gone.

Now, losing starters isn't as big a deal when the starters aren't very good. White teased us with occasionally dominant performances in 2011-12 -- 22 carries for 174 yards versus BYU, 36 for 171 versus Pitt, 35 for 205 versus Oregon State, 33 for 167 versus UCLA in 2011; 22 for 142 versus Washington and 20 for 168 versus Colorado in 2012 -- and at the very least tackle Sam Brenner was good enough to get all-conference attention. But there was simply no consistency here. In 2012, White struggled with an ankle issue, missed the BYU game, and rushed 58 times for just 198 yards in the four games after he returned. But even a hobbled White was seemingly better than the supporting cast behind him. Kelvin York, Jarrell Oliver, and Lucky Radley showed almost no explosiveness whatsoever last season; now they're the experienced, old hands.

Despite the losses up front, Utah's line should still be experienced. Of the four returnees with starting experience, three are seniors; the other is sophomore Jeremiah Poutasi, an enormous former four-star recruit who will fill Brenner's role at left tackle this year. And while the line struggled last season, it can blame continuity for some of the issues: in the first eight games, Utah had to start five different line combinations. Stay healthy, and you're already ahead of the game.

If the running game can at least improve a little more, the passing game should match the improvement. Wilson at least held his own last year and came to Salt Lake City with a pretty good pedigree. Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott have shown flashes in their first couple of seasons (though neither excelled amid last year's QB derby), senior Anthony Denham might be ready for a bigger role, tight end Jake Murphy is a keeper, and four-star JUCO transfer Andre Lewis will certainly have plenty of opportunity for playing time.

This isn't a great receiving corps by any means, but Erickson should be able to coax some decent production out of it.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Dres Anderson WR 6'1, 187 Jr. *** (5.6) 59 36 365 61.0% 6.2 17.8% 50.8% 6.0 46.1
Kenneth Scott WR 6'3, 211 Jr. **** (5.8) 56 32 360 57.1% 6.4 16.9% 51.8% 6.5 45.4
DeVonte Christopher WR 43 22 300 51.2% 7.0 13.0% 72.1% 7.4 37.9
Jake Murphy TE 6'4, 252 Jr. **** (5.8) 42 33 349 78.6% 8.3 12.7% 54.8% 8.4 44.0
Luke Matthews WR 28 19 204 67.9% 7.3 8.5% 67.9% 7.2 25.7
John White RB 27 15 122 55.6% 4.5 8.2% 51.9% 4.6 15.4
Anthony Denham WR 6'4, 222 Sr. *** (5.7) 15 11 135 73.3% 9.0 4.5% 60.0% 9.0 17.0
Reggie Dunn WR 14 12 74 85.7% 5.3 4.2% 64.3% 5.0 9.3
David Rolf TE 13 10 96 76.9% 7.4 3.9% 38.5% 6.9 12.1
Karl Williams RB 6'0, 243 Sr. ** (5.2) 9 9 83 100.0% 9.2 2.7% 66.7% 9.2 10.5
Westlee Tonga TE 6'4, 252 Sr. ** (5.3) 7 4 39 57.1% 5.6 2.1% 14.3% 8.5 4.9
Sean Fitzgerald WR 6'3, 200 Sr. ** (5.2) 4 4 61 100.0% 15.3 1.2% 50.0% 12.9 7.7
Brian Allen WR 6'3, 208 RSFr. *** (5.5)








Andre Lewis WR 6'3, 210 Jr. **** (5.8)








Greg Reese TE 6'5, 250 Jr. *** (5.6)








Delshawn McClellon WR 5'9, 166 Fr. *** (5.5)








Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 94.7 2.63 3.50 35.9% 55.6% 18.8% 124.4 4.0% 6.3%
Rank 93 103 33 96 115 58 42 51 62
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Sam Brenner LT 26 career starts; 2012 2nd All-Pac-12
Tevita Stevens C 35 career starts
Miles Mason RG 21 career starts
Jeremiah Poutasi LT 6'5, 345 So. **** (5.8) 10 career starts
Vyncent Jones C 6'3, 305 Sr. *** (5.5) 9 career starts
Jeremiah Tofaeono LG 6'2, 320 Sr. *** (5.5) 6 career starts
Percy Taumoelau LG 6'4, 310 Sr. *** (5.5) 2 career starts
Siaosi Aiono RT 6'2, 305 So. *** (5.7)
Carlos Lozano LT 6'6, 380 Jr. *** (5.6)
Junior Salt RG 6'2, 325 Jr. **** (5.8)
Derek Tuimauga RT 6'4, 320 So. *** (5.5)
Hiva Lutui C 6'2, 300 RSFr. *** (5.6)
Andrew Albers OL 6'7, 310 Jr. ** (5.3)

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 36 51 65 48
RUSHING 23 34 62 18
PASSING 65 79 67 81
Standard Downs 60 75 52
Passing Downs 49 68 37
Redzone 109 115 91
Q1 Rk 50 1st Down Rk 69
Q2 Rk 40 2nd Down Rk 28
Q3 Rk 93 3rd Down Rk 71
Q4 Rk 42

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 109.6 2.91 2.15 38.4% 72.4% 22.3% 101.2 8.3% 6.2%
Rank 24 59 7 57 88 26 60 5 64
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Trevor Reilly DE 6'5, 245 Sr. *** (5.5) 12 51.5 8.2% 6.5 4.5 1 4 3 1
Nate Orchard DE 6'3, 245 Jr. *** (5.7) 12 40.0 6.3% 9.5 3 0 4 2 3
Star Lotulelei DT 12 33.5 5.3% 10 5 0 4 3 4
Jason Whittingham DE 6'2, 234 So. ** (5.2) 9 26.0 4.1% 2.5 1 0 1 2 0
Joe Kruger DE 11 24.5 3.9% 8 6 1 1 2 0
Dave Kruger DT 11 20.0 3.2% 0.5 0.5 0 0 0 1
Tenny Palepoi DT 6'2, 300 Sr. *** (5.5) 12 16.5 2.6% 3 2 0 0 0 0
Viliseni Fauonuku DT 5'11, 285 So. *** (5.5) 12 10.0 1.6% 4.5 1 0 0 1 0
Niasi Leota DE 10 4.5 0.7% 1.5 0 0 0 0 0
Thretton Palamo DE 6'2, 255 Sr. NR 9 3.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
L.T. Tuipulotu DT 6'1, 305 Sr. *** (5.7) 3 1.0 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Latu Heimuli DT 6'3, 305 Sr. **** (5.8)







Hunter Dimick DE 6'3, 270 RSFr. *** (5.6)
Stevie Tu'ikolovatu DT 6'1, 320 RSFr. NR
Sese Ianu DT 6'2, 305 Jr. *** (5.5)
Moana Ofahengaue DE 6'3, 235 Fr. *** (5.7)

5. A need for speed

When your defensive line is the primary source of your identity, and when you lose basically three of your top four defensive linemen, it's time for a reboot, whether you like it or not. And in the absence of players like tackle Star Lotulelei, Whittingham and defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake have decided to get smaller and faster. Last year's starting line averaged 6'5, 281; this year's projected starting line: 6'2, 266. Linebackers Trevor Reilly and Jason Whittingham have been converted to ends -- that move should suit Reilly, a pretty good pass rusher, just fine. Plus, safety Brian Blechen has moved to linebacker.

Previous Utah defenses were predicated on big lines eating up blockers and tremendous safeties preventing big plays; now, perhaps to counter the speed of Pac-12 offenses, Utah is going with something different. Change doesn't automatically guarantee success, but with so many departures, especially up front, the Utes had to try something.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Brian Blechen STUD 6'2, 225 Sr. *** (5.7) 9 48.5 7.7% 3.5 0 1 5 1 0
L.T. Filiaga ROV 6'0, 250 So. *** (5.6) 11 22.5 3.6% 2 0 0 0 1 0
V.J. Fehoko MLB 5'11, 225 Jr. **** (5.8) 12 22.0 3.5% 2 1 0 0 0 0
Jacoby Hale ROV 6'0, 230 Jr. *** (5.6) 7 22.0 3.5% 3 0 0 2 0 0
Dave Fagergren LB 12 21.0 3.3% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Boo Andersen STUD 10 15.0 2.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Reshawn Hooker STUD 6'0, 220 So. *** (5.7) 3 8.5 1.3% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Nick Brown LB 12 7.0 1.1% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Victor Spikes ROV 8 7.0 1.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jared Norris ROV 6'1, 230 So. *** (5.7) 7 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 1
Travis Still LB 6'1, 225 So. *** (5.7) 12 1.0 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Uaea Masina MLB 6'2, 215 Fr. *** (5.6)

6. A new need for blitzing

Utah had one of the best standard downs sack rates in the country last year; that means the Utes were able to generate heat without blitzing. Lotulelei and Joe Kruger were both quite strong in this regard, but all returning non-linemen combined for just one sack last season.

Even though Reilly could be a strong, adept pass-rush specialist, Utah will likely have to blitz quite a bit more in 2013; that's a problem considering Reilly was last year's best blitzer. And here's where the impact of recent recruiting could be felt the most, for better or worse. Underclassmen like L.T. Filiaga, Reshawn Hooker, freshman linebacker Uaea Masina, and perhaps even safeties like Eric Rowe and JUCO transfer Tevin Carter will play a major role in creating a new, interesting pass rush. If they're good at it, then the pieces could fall into place nicely. But if the increased speed cannot create increased havoc, then Utah's weaknesses are still weak, and its strengths (in this case, run defense) probably get weaker.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Eric Rowe FS 6'1, 205 Jr. *** (5.7) 10 51.5 8.2% 0.5 0 1 5 0 1
Reggie Topps CB 11 39.0 6.2% 6.5 4 1 4 2 1
Moe Lee CB 12 28.0 4.4% 1 0 1 6 0 1
Ryan Lacy CB 11 19.5 3.1% 3 0 2 5 1 1
Quade Chappuis FS 5'11, 200 Sr. NR 5 19.5 3.1% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Tyron Morris-Edwards SS 6'1, 200 Jr. NR 9 12.5 2.0% 1 0 0 2 0 0
Lewis Walker NB 10 11.5 1.8% 0 0 0 2 1 0
Keith McGill (2011) CB 6'3, 205 Sr. **** (5.8) 5 9.0 1.3% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Michael Walker NB 5'9, 182 Sr. *** (5.5) 10 6.0 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Terrell Reese FS 9 6.0 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Wykie Freeman DB 5'11, 179 Jr. *** (5.5) 4 4.5 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Honeycutt DB 5'10, 181 Sr. ** (5.4) 12 3.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Joseph Bryant DB 6'3, 208 So. *** (5.6) 4 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Joseph Smith NB 5'9, 189 Jr. *** (5.7)
Charles Henderson S 5'9, 185 So. ** (5.4)
Reginald Porter CB 5'11, 190 RSFr. *** (5.5)
Justin Thomas CB 5'9, 173 RSFr. **** (5.8)
Davion Orphey CB 6'0, 187 Jr. *** (5.7)
Tevin Carter FS 6'1, 213 Jr. *** (5.5)

7. A transfusion

It's probably not a good thing that all four cornerbacks on Utah's summer two-deep (PDF) weren't on the two-deep at the end of last season. Gone are Reggie Topps, Moe Lee, and Ryan Lacy (combined: 10.5 tackles for loss, 19 passes defensed); in their place are names like Keith McGill (a former star recruit who has played only five games in two years because of a shoulder injury), redshirt freshmen Justin Thomas and Reginald Porter, and junior college transfer Davion Orphey.

Now, Thomas was also a star recruit, and Orphey is a reasonably big corner who was good enough to also play running back as a freshman at Santa Ana Community College. And while last year's corners were decent play-makers, they also allowed quite a few plays. Some new blood might not hurt, though depth could be a serious issue.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Sean Sellwood 38 46.5 4 16 9 65.8%
Tom Hackett 6'0, 190 So. 25 38.9 1 10 15 100.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Nick Marsh 60 62.7 25 41.7%
Coleman Petersen 1 11 0 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Coleman Petersen 38-39 5-7 71.4% 3-6 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Reggie Dunn KR 10 51.3 4
Charles Henderson KR 5'9, 185 So. 7 14.6 0
Dallin Rogers KR 6 6.0 0
Charles Henderson PR 5'9, 185 So. 26 5.3 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 27
Net Punting 29
Net Kickoffs 33
Touchback Pct 41
Field Goal Pct 102
Kick Returns Avg 6
Punt Returns Avg 104

8. Any hope of replacing Reggie Dunn?

In three seasons, Reggie Dunn caught only 31 passes and scored just one receiving touchdown. On an offense desperate for weapons in 2012, he averaged just 5.3 yards per target on about one target per game. He was a non-factor in the offense for the most part; but the Pittsburgh Steelers are still giving him a strong look this summer because of his oh-my-god speed and kick return abilities. In just 48 career kick returns, Dunn scored five touchdowns and averaged 30.9 yards per return; that's ridiculous.

Because of Dunn, kick returns were a strength for Utah's special teams unit in 2012. But without Dunn and other strong field position weapons like punter Sean Sellwood and kickoffs guy Nick Marsh, Utah's strong special teams unit could struggle in 2013.

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2013 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
29-Aug Utah State 46
7-Sep Weber State NR
14-Sep Oregon State 25
21-Sep at BYU 27
3-Oct UCLA 43
12-Oct Stanford 5
19-Oct at Arizona 30
26-Oct at USC 17
9-Nov Arizona State 34
16-Nov at Oregon 2
23-Nov at Washington State 97
30-Nov Colorado 115
Five-Year F/+ Rk 32
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 33
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* +4 / +7.3
TO Luck/Game -1.4
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 13 (6, 7)
Yds/Pt Margin** -2.3

9. Holy War checklist

Three years ago, Utah and BYU played each other as conference rivals for the final time. Since 2011, the two programs have gone off in their own direction; Utah upgraded from the Mountain West to the Pac-12, while BYU set about on a "Notre Dame of the west" course, choosing to go independent. Let's go to the scorecard to see who's faring better.

  • Average F/+ Ranking: BYU 31.5 (was 40.0 in the two years prior), Utah 60.5 (was 28.5)
  • Record: BYU 18-8, Utah 13-12
  • Record vs. BCS conference opponents (and Boise State): Utah 11-11, BYU 4-7
  • Two-Year Recruiting Rank: Utah 33, BYU 70
  • Holy War wins: Utah 2, BYU 0

The record is mixed thus far. BYU's performance has been more consistently strong (and unlike Utah, BYU hasn't had the luxury of going 3-1 versus Washington State and Colorado), but the Utes have taken both head-to-head matchups and have taken better advantage of their improved recruiting opportunities. BYU is more well-positioned for success in 2013, but will that remain the story moving forward?

10. Win your home games

In 2013, Utah hosts Utah State, Weber State, Oregon State, UCLA, Stanford, Arizona State and Colorado. The Utes are projected higher than just two of those seven (Weber State, Colorado), but they obviously won't be significant underdogs against teams like Utah State, Oregon State, Arizona State, or possibly UCLA. Figure out a way to go 4-3 at home, and a return to bowl eligibility is a distinct possibility; at that point, the Utes would just have to figure out how to go 2-1 at BYU, Arizona and Washington State, basically.

A year ago, I was talking myself into a potential 10-2 season for Utah; now I have to spin to get to 6-6 or 7-5. The last year did not go as planned for Whittingham and his Utes, but better health and new identities for both the offense and defense will give them a shot at a rebound.

With so many Pac-12 teams improving, it will be hard for Utah to catch up after losing so much ground last year; but it won't be impossible if some of the key, highly-touted youngsters and newcomers -- Travis Wilson, Andre Lewis, Jeremiah Poutasi, L.T. Filiaga, Reshawn Hooker, Justin Thomas, Davion Orphey -- come through.

More from SB Nation:

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