Utah coach Kyle Whittingham says he sees similarities between this year’s team and the Utes squad that won the Pac-12 South title in 2019. Can Utah get to another conference championship game — and maybe even the Rose Bowl after that? This is the path the Utes have to take to get there.
Reason to hope
Charlie Brewer’s resume. Brewer was named the starting quarterback for the Utes after having a neck-and-competition with Cam Rising throughout fall camp for the position. In four years at Baylor, he passed for 9,700 yards and 65 touchdowns, while completing 63.5% of his passes.
Fans return to Rice-Eccles Stadium. Due to COVID-19, many of Utah’s young players have never played a game in a Utes uniform in front of a home crowd. But that won’t be the case this year, and with the unveiling of the new south end zone, the atmosphere promises to be rocking in 2021. The Utes have sold out 64 straight games going back to the 2010 home opener.
Cause for concern
Concern over some defensive stats. Utah was either close to the bottom or dead last in the Pac-12 in stats like passing yards allowed (10th), punt return defense (12th) and net punting (10th) last year. And while not a defensive stat, the Utes were also 10th in third-down conversion percentage. If Utah wants to make a leap in 2021, there is room for improvement in those areas.
No clear offensive line yet. Whittingham said recently that he doesn’t know who from his offensive line will be available for the team’s opening game against Weber State on Sept. 2, leaving a key position group up in the air longer than one would want.
Utah’s abysmal road record against USC. The Utes are just 1-9 all-time against the Trojans in Los Angeles, where the two will face off this year. Since joining the Pac-12, Utah has lost all five. If Utah wants any shot at winning the Pac-12 South, beating USC on its home field will be huge.
Utah football’s 2021 schedule at a glance
• Sept. 2, Weber State, 5:30 p.m.
Last game: Utah 41, Weber State 10 (Aug. 30, 2018)
While coach Jay Hill promoted three members of his coaching staff into key positions, the Wildcats look to continue their dominance in the Big Sky Conference. They were picked to finish first by media and coaches. The good news for the Utes is they’ve never lost to Weber State in five all-time matchups.
• Sept. 11, at BYU, 8:15 p.m.
Last game: Utah 30, BYU 12 (Aug. 29, 2019)
The Cougars are in the middle of various position battles in their own right after losing Zach Wilson, Dax Milne and three other players to the NFL. But the latest installment of the series should be even more ramped up after it didn’t occur last year.
• Sept. 18, at San Diego State (Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, Calif.), 5 p.m.
Last game: Utah 38, SDSU 34 (Sept. 25, 2010)
It’s been a while since these two teams met. The Aztecs won a bowl game in 2019 and it looks like they’ll be led by senior QB Jordon Brookshire.
• Sept. 25, Washington State, TBD
Last game: Utah 45, Washington State 28 (Dec. 19, 2020)
Max Borghi is the team’s top running back, but the quarterback situation isn’t settled yet. After playing only four games last season, WSU is looking to unleash its entire playbook.
• Oct. 9, at No. 15 USC, TBD
Last game: USC 33, Utah 17 (Nov. 21, 2020)
Former Corner Canyon High School quarterback Jaxson Dart has impressed in his first year at USC, although he’s not likely to see much time this season as a freshman. The Trojans were the best team in the Pac-12 last year and are looking to running back Keontay Ingram, a transfer, to produce for them.
• Oct. 16, Arizona State, TBD
Last game: Utah 21, ASU 3 (Oct. 19, 2019)
The main story for this team this season lies off the field with a recruiting investigation underway and three of its coaches having been placed on administrative leave. Still, the Sun Devils are ranked 25th in the AP Top 25.
• Oct. 23, at Oregon State, TBD
Last game: Utah 30, Oregon State 24 (Dec. 5, 2020)
The Beavers struggled last season, and this year have only nine players listed as seniors on their roster — six of whom are redshirts. Sporting News predicted that OSU will finish last in the Pac-12 North.
• Oct. 30, UCLA, TBD
Last game: Utah 49, UCLA 3 (Nov. 16, 2019)
It’s Chip Kelly’s fourth season as coach. And with 19 starters returning from last year’s squad, there are some high expectations for the Bruins in 2021. They’ll be led by Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who completed a career-high 65.2% of his passes last year.
• Nov. 5, at Stanford, 8 p.m.
Last game: Utah 40, Standford 21 (Oct. 6, 2018)
The Cardinal are somewhat of an enigma this season. The team won its last four games last season, but will feature a new quarterback in 2021. Coach David Shaw has expressed confidence in the team’s ability to win the conference this year.
• Nov. 13, at Arizona, TBD
Last game: Utah 35, Arizona 7 (Nov. 23, 2019)
The Wildcats didn’t win one of their five games in 2020, and the matchup against the Utes was canceled. ESPN is projecting Arizona to go just 3-9 this season.
• Nov. 20, No. 11 Oregon, TBD
Last game: Oregon 37, Utah 15 (Dec. 6, 2019)
The Ducks, according to multiple projections, have the best chance at winning the entire Pac-12 in 2021. Sophomore defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux is on the Associated Press’s list of preseason first-team All-Americans. The Ducks are also ranked No. 11 in the AP Top 25.
• Nov. 26, Colorado, TBD
Last game: Utah 38, Colorado 21 (Dec. 12, 2020)
Coach Karl Dorrell enters his second season at the helm of a team that went 4-2 overall last season. Its only conference loss was to the Utes. Dorrell wants to change how the team is viewed, despite the fact that since 2005, the Buffaloes have produced only two winning seasons.