Red All Over: Devin Lloyd’s return finishes Utah football’s major offseason business. Can the Utes contend in 2021?

Devin Lloyd has twice been named All-Pac-12, and was a finalist for the Butkus Award in 2020

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On Saturday at 5:20 p.m., Devin Lloyd tweeted out a 21-second highlight video from the shortened 2020 football season, and slapped a caption on it that read, “One Last Ride.”

Lloyd, a University of Utah redshirt junior linebacker and a finalist for last season’s Butkus Award, will return to Salt Lake City in 2021 as a redshirt junior. With that, all of the Utes’ major offseason business should now be complete.

Lloyd is returning, an announcement that came days after redshirt junior offensive lineman Nick Ford and junior tight end Brant Kuithe both announced they would return. The coaching staff restocked the quarterback room, hitting the NCAA Transfer Portal for Baylor’s Charlie Brewer and Ja’Quinden Jackson of Texas. Same with the running back room, which now includes Oklahoma transfer T.J. Pledger and LSU’s Chris Curry.

The question now begs, will Utah contend for the Pac-12 South title?

The answer should be, based on how last season ended and what the 2021 roster looks on paper, yes.

There has been no official word out of Utah yet as to which seniors from 2020 will return in 2021 thanks to the eligibility clock being frozen, but it would appear Utah is set to return nine starters on offense and 10 from a defense that outperformed any reasonable expectation in 2020.

That’s a lot of experience back off what was a young team, but one that improved as the season went along. To expect a division title in 2021 is not unreasonable, but just like the Utes will return a bunch of pieces thanks to the eligibility freeze, so will everyone else. With that said, USC is still the likely Pac-12 South favorite.

For now, Lloyd’s return is huge, as are the returns of Ford and Kuithe. That’s three older guys, three All-Pac-12 guys, three culture guys, three significant pieces of the puzzle on both sides of the ball.

All we need to do now is get to the 2021 football season, preferably in a safe, vaccinated fashion, but that’s a topic for another day.

What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise

• Kyle Whittingham and his staff did a really nice job of hitting the transfer portal for two aforementioned positions of need, quarterback and running back, doing so before the second semester starts and not putting Utah in a tough spot going into the summer. Brewer and Jackson will be at the head of what should be an open quarterback competition, while Pledger and Curry will be in the immediate mix for carries. Whittingham has been unafraid to hit the portal in the recent past, especially at quarterback, and here we are.

• Urban Meyer going to coach the Jacksonville Jaguars is going to lead to some conjecture and rumor-mongering about whether or not he will reach back west to the University of Utah and poach Utes defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley for his first NFL staff. It’s inevitable.

• The Utah hoops team is 4-5 with four straight losses, all to potential NCAA Tournament teams in UCLA, USC, Oregon and Colorado. That’s a rugged stretch, which shows no letup on Thursday afternoon with another March Madness probable, Stanford, visiting the Huntsman Center. If the Utes lose to Stanford and finish this current four-game homestand at 1-3, or even 0-4 if they lose to Cal Saturday night, I’m not entirely sure where things go from there.

• Please stop sending me mailbag questions regarding Larry Krystkowiak’s job security. Thank you.

• Circle Tuesday, UCLA at Oregon. The two best teams in the Pac-12, which really shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, even in this weird COVID year where homecourt advantages have been made moot without fans present. The Bruins, who are home to Washington State today and Washington on Saturday, are the Pac-12′s lone unbeaten in conference-play at 5-0.

Your questions

Q: “What are your impressions on Utah football’s moves this week, specifically running back?” — @Eric18utah

A: Even before Ty Jordan’s death, Utah needed to address a depth issue at running back after TJ Green, Devin Brumfield and Jordan Wilmore all opted to transfer.

From a football standpoint, Jordan’s death left a pretty significant hole at the position, but Pledger and Curry bring Power Five experience to the position, which, even with Jordan, was still sorely lacking for Utah.

Whittingham may not be done adding to the running backs room, but he’s in a better position than he was a week ago between Pledger, Curry, redshirt freshman Micah Bernard and true freshman Ricky Parks.

Less than two months before spring practice, I would pencil in Pledger as the starter, but that’s merely based on previous accomplishments.

Q: “If you were putting together a basketball team based on local media members, who would you pick and what position are they playing?” — @BrownbearSLC

A: Nice.

Guard: Porter Larsen, ESPN700: Likely the most-athletic media member in this market, grew up playing a variety of sports, still very active at the ripe, old age of 26, so he’s in.

Guard: Chris Kamrani, The Athletic: There is a short video on Twitter of Kamrani playing in a pickup game during downtime at last year’s NFL combine. He drops an absolute dime through his legs to a teammate at the rim for a layup, then jogs back down the floor like it was nothing. That’s moxie, folks.

Forward: Josh Newman, The Salt Lake Tribune: My newsletter, so I get to play. Best days are way in the rearview mirror, but I can still get up and down a little bit and knock down the midrange jumper.

Forward: Bill Riley, ESPN700: Killing two birds with one stone. Bill is our starting power forward AND our play-by-play guy.

Center: Bryan Brown, UteZone: His idea, so he gets to play, too. Being a former offensive lineman has to mean Brown has some decent footwork. Rebound, set a screen, no need to worry about offense.

Q: “If Whitt were to eat a cookie, any brand, plain. What would it be?” — @ShortStackUte

A: Let’s talk this out a little bit.

Whittingham is a workout guy, that is well-documented. Also, he noticeably lost a bunch of weight during the pandemic, close to 30 pounds if I remember correctly. As someone who works out and takes care of himself, to me, that means if Whittingham were to eat a cookie, he would make a sensible decision. Also, let’s say he worked out hard a particular day or week and wants to treat himself, maybe he has two cookies instead of just one.

If Whittingham were to eat a cookie or cookies, he’s going with a two-pack of SnackWell’s Vanilla Creme. Two of those are only costing him 100 calories, no high fructose corn syrup, really not a lot of garbage at all. A nice treat and a sensible choice.

Q: “Who’s the more delusional fan base, Utah or BYU?” — @benwilkinson

A: Every fan is forever chasing the high of the greatest moment in program history. Not just Utah and BYU fans, but all college football fans.

Every Cougars fan wants to relive the magic of the 1984 national championship season, and every Utes fan wants to go undefeated, while smashing Alabama in the Sugar Bowl again. That is never changing.

Which of these two fan bases is more delusional? Probably BYU fans, who seem to believe that playing in a meaningful late-December or January bowl game is an attainable goal on an annual basis.

Let me help. Under this current College Football Playoff structure, no independent program other than Notre Dame is playing for a national title, while even getting to the New Year’s Six is largely a pipe dream. It took a radically-altered, softer COVID-19 schedule to even get BYU to the doorstep of the New Year’s Six, and we see how things turned out with even just one loss.

Granted, there are plenty of Utah fans with huge dreams, some of which may not be reasonable, but as a Power Five member, the Utes have a better chance of reaching those heights than the Cougars do.

Random musings

• It has come to my attention that fans on a Utes-focused message board believe that I am something of a “pizza authority.” Frankly, those fans are correct.

• There is a non-zero chance Steve Nash regrets agreeing to coach the Brooklyn Nets, who are a full-blown three-ring circus with James Harden now in the mix.

• My wife, an avid cyclist, has been begging me to learn how to ride a bike. I never learned as a kid, but finally got on one two years ago, although I’m still a novice. I finally caved last weekend and bought myself a bike, a really nice Felt Versa. Turns out, I really like riding a bike. Who knew?

• Getting impeached once is an accomplishment, but getting impeached twice is an impossibility. Well done.

• Einstein Bros. Bagels are for tourists, but the one on 15th and 15th serves Caribou Coffee, so it will continue to get my business if I’m up that way from time to time.