Kyle Whittingham is trying to finally get the Utah Utes on track in the Pac 12, but faces a difficult schedule to try and turn things around. The challenges start from the opening kickoff as the Utes open the season against the Utah State Aggies, WAC champion and legitimate non-BCS program in 2012. Can the Utes avoid a second-straight loss to their in-state rival?
Last season, Utah watched its season begin to unravel when they faced off against the Aggies. Quarterback Jordan Wynn went down with what turned out to be a career-ending injury, the offensive line got pushed around and Utah State pulled off the 27-20 win in overtime to snap a 12-game losing streak to the Utes. Utah immediately went into a tailspin and their season never recoverd. The Aggies, meanwhile, used the momentum from this victory to fuel an 11-win season.
Despite the departure of head coach Gary Andersen, the Aggies will enjoy a great deal of continuity from last season to this one. Matt Wells was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach, so he knows how to use the players he has on the roster and he has some good ones. In all, Utah State returns eight starters on offense and seven on defense. Their offense could provide the needed push to give the Aggies a bona fide winning streak over Utah.
Quarterback Chuckie Keaton returns following a first-team, all-league performance in 2012 when he completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 3,373 yards and 27 touchdowns to nine interceptions. He also has all five offensive linemen returning which means a group that was solid last season has gotten another year to gel together and become even better. That strength could play right into the biggest weakness facing Utah heading into next season.
The Utes have a desperate lack of experience along their defensive line. Star Lotulelei and the Kruger brothers are no longer there to hold down the line, putting the pressure on an inexperienced and untested group that will be thrown into the deep end immediately. The projected starters at defensive end, Thretton Palamo and Hunter Dimick have next to no experience, combining for just 11 tackles in their careers.
Utah State is a legitimate threat to start Utah’s season out on the wrong foot. If Whittingham fails to get his team up to speed during fall camp, it could turn into a long season starting on opening weekend.