Pac-12: Utah Utes

Taylor Kelly and Jaelen Strong. Marcus Mariota and Devon Allen. Sean Mannion and Victor Bolden. Brett Hundley and Devin Fuller (or Jordan Payton, or Devin Lucien). Connor Halliday and ... every receiver.

Yes, 2014 is going to see a ton of Pac-12 quarterback-wide receiver combos that could put up some major numbers and turn some heads.

[+] EnlargeDres Anderson
Boyd Ivey/Icon SMIDres Anderson is looking for consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
And right in that group -- and really, near the front of it -- could be Utah, with junior Travis Wilson and fifth-year senior Dres Anderson.

Anderson earned Pac-12 honorable mention last year after recording seven touchdowns and 1,002 yards on 53 catches. He’s the conference’s top returning receiver (83.5 yards per game) and was 11th in the FBS in yards per catch (18.9).

Assuming Wilson checks out symptom-free from the concussion that cost him his 2014 season, these two will still need some time going into this season to really position themselves for major yardage.

“This is [Wilson’s] third year throwing to Dres,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “They seem to have good chemistry. … We need him and Dres to continue to be productive.”

From a conditioning perspective, Anderson has done everything the coaches asked of him during the offseason. Whittingham said Anderson seems faster than last year, which is good considering he’s also up about five pounds from 2013.

But on the field, the biggest key to Anderson’s production will be for another younger receiver to step up, make big plays and prevent teams from double-covering Anderson.

Currently at the top of that list, according to Whittingham, is junior Kenneth Scott, sophomore Dominique Hatfield and senior Kaelin Clay.

Scott missed last season after going down with a season-ending injury in the Utes' first game. Hatfield got a bit of experience in Scott’s absence. He played in 11 games and recorded four catches for 84 yards. And Clay, a transfer from Mount San Antonio College, led his conference last year with 16 touchdowns and 995 yards (he was second in his conference in receptions with 52).

So, assuming one -- or more -- of those three players can draw some attention away from Anderson, the redshirt senior is poised to really have a big season.

He could have an even bigger season in his final year for Utah than his father, Willie “Flipper” Anderson, did in his final year at UCLA. Flipper, like Dres, had a great quarterback (Troy Aikman), and they connected for more than 900 yards and six touchdowns.

Whittingham’s father actually coached Flipper in the NFL, after the Los Angeles Rams drafted him in 1988.

“When we were recruiting Dres and I found out he was Flipper’s son I thought, ‘Hey, this guy comes from good stock, we’ve got to make sure to get this guy in our program,’ ” Whittingham said.

And now the younger Anderson is poised to show some Flipper-like flare.

Pac-12 lunch links

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
2:30
PM ET
Way back on the radio dial a fire got lit inside a bright eyed child. Every note just wrapped around his soul, steel guitars to Memphis all the way to rock 'n roll.

Pac-12 lunch links

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
2:30
PM ET
Happy Friday the 13th!

Pac-12 lunch links

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
2:30
PM ET
Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids.

Is the Pac-12 inexperienced?

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
1:30
PM ET
As previously noted, there is no simple measure that consistently predicts college football success. We lean on returning starters most often -- it matters, of course, just who those returning players are -- because we typically value experience.

There's good reason for that. Experience matters. While it's not more important than talent, it often overcomes talent.

Another way to measure a team's experience is to look at returning "lettermen," who are loosely defined as players who contributed during the past season.

This is what Phil Steele does here. Of course, he also notes that each program defines lettermen differently, so he defines his measure in a percentage of lettermen returning.

And, by this measure, the Pac-12 isn't terribly experienced heading into 2014.

Last year -- one of the deepest in terms of quality in conference history -- 11 pac-12 teams ranked among the nation's top-65 (top half, really) in terms of experience. This year, just five teams do, and six rank between 85th and 124th.


Does this mean the Pac-12 should expect a downturn in 2014? Not necessarily.

For one, 10 Pac-12 teams welcome back experienced QBs, and half of those are all-star prospects as well as NFL prospects. That's almost always a benefit. No other conference even approaches the quality the Pac-12 will have behind center this fall. Further, as we've show the past two days -- here and here -- there's a strong collection of offensive line talent coming back. Finally, one of preseason themes is the depth across the conference at receiver.

What I think we'll see this year in the Pac-12 is a step back on defense and -- not unconnected -- a big step forward on offense, particularly the passing game.

Whether that translates to nonconference and bowl wins and, perhaps, success in the inaugural College Football Playoff remains to be seen.

Pac-12 lunch links

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
2:30
PM ET
Every stop is neatly planned for a poet and a one-man band.
This week, we've looked at the worst offenses and defenses in the Pac-12 in 2013 and speculated on which is most likely to take a step forward this fall.

We broke things down. Now it's your turn to pick which team you think is headed for better things in 2014. We polled defense Thursday, and now it's time for offense.

Here's the North Division offensive breakdown. And here's the South.

Here's the North Division graphic.


And here's the South.


There is one problem.

Our poll tool only allows for five choices, so obviously one team must be eliminated. So goodbye to Stanford, which played pretty good offense last fall and is replacing four O-line starters as well as running back Tyler Gaffney. Our expectation -- and we're forcing it down your throats! -- is the Cardinal might score a few more points per game in 2014 because of an improved passing attack, but Stanford isn't a team that obsesses about scoring more than, say, 35 because it pretty much plays to its defense in the fourth quarter.

SportsNation

Which struggling Pac-12 offense is most likely to improve in 2014?

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    14%
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    17%
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    44%
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    18%
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    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,612)

So who might improved the most?

California welcomes back pretty much its entire unit, and it should benefit from true sophomore QB Jared Goff and company having a full year in Sonny Dykes' system.

Washington State scored 31 points per game last season, and with a bevy of talent back to run Mike Leach's Air Raid offense, this could be the Cougars' breakthrough year. After his first season at Texas Tech, Leach's offenses averaged more than 35 points per game in eight of the next nine seasons, three times eclipsing the 40-point threshold.

While USC is adopting a new, up-tempo attack under new coach Steve Sarkisian, the Trojans have plenty of talent and could pile up points. The only question is the O-line.

Just like USC, Utah and Colorado welcome back their starting quarterbacks -- assuming that Utes QB Travis Wilson gets a clean bill of health. The Buffaloes have to figure out how to replace wide receiver Paul Richardson's production, while the Utes should greatly benefit from the return of wide receiver Kenneth Scott, who missed the 2013 season with a knee injury.

So, which team do you think shows the most improvement on offense in 2014?
SportsNation

Which struggling Pac-12 defense is most likely to improve in 2014?

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    28%
  •  
    15%
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    28%
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    18%
  •  
    11%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,031)

This week, we've looked at the worst offenses and defenses in the Pac-12 in 2013 and speculated on which is most likely to take a step forward this fall.

We broke things down. Now it's your turn to pick which team you think is headed for better things in 2014. We'll do defense today and offense on Friday.

Here's the North Division defensive breakdown. And here's the South.

There is one problem. Our poll tool only allows for five choices, so obviously one team must be eliminated. So goodbye Arizona State, which played pretty good defense last fall and lost nine starters. While there is no certainty the Sun Devils won't be better on defense in 2014, the odds are more against it than the other five teams.

And, no, you can't vote for Oregon, Ducks fans.

Obviously, California almost can't help but improve, particularly if its luck with injuries is a little better. Colorado has the most returning starters.

Utah has a strong defensive tradition, while Oregon State seems like a unit that alternates good years with bad -- with a good year perhaps approaching. Like Oregon State, Washington State loses its best player from 2013 to the NFL, but it has a sneaky good front seven coming back.

So what's your take: Which defense toughens up the most in 2014?

Pac-12's lunch links

June, 5, 2014
Jun 5
2:30
PM ET
And the piano sounds like a carnival. And the microphone smells like a beer.

Key stretch: Utah

June, 5, 2014
Jun 5
1:00
PM ET
Without a doubt, every game matters.

With few exceptions, a single game doesn't define a season. A great victory can be deflated by an upset the next weekend, while a crushing defeat can be redeemed by an inspired effort later in the season.

While the Pac-12's national title contenders -- we won't name names -- need to win every game (or just about), before each season you can point to a stretch of games on the schedule that appears defining for every team. In terms of a team's goals, that stretch is most critical.

We've defined a "key stretch" as three games, though we will allow for those three games to come among four.

UTAH

Key stretch: Sept. 6 vs. Fresno State, Sept. 20 at Michigan, Sept. 27 vs. Washington State

Why it's critical: What's most intriguing about this three-game stretch is that it's plausible the Utes could go 3-0 or 0-3. For a team that figures to be on the bowl fringe, it's a make or break three weeks.

Fresno State will be a tough game after the season-opener against Idaho State, but it's in Salt Lake City and the Bulldogs have to replace quarterback Derek Carr. A win against Fresno State would grease the skids for success going to Michigan, where Utah won in 2008.

Michigan hardly appears like a world-beater after finishing 2-6 following a 5-0 start last year. Much like against Fresno State, a win against Michigan would provide Utah a big boost of momentum headed into conference play, but a loss wouldn't be overly concerning.

At this point, Utah could be anywhere from 1-2 to 3-0. The Utes got off to a rough start against WSU a year ago and weren't able to fight their way back in a game that ultimately decided which team played in a bowl game.

And after that? Brutal. At UCLA, at Oregon State, vs. USC, at Arizona State, vs. Oregon, at Stanford.

Other key stretches:
In 2012, Arizona's defense surrendered 35.3 points per game. That's bad. This past season, Arizona yielded 24.2 points per game. Much better.

Every season, offenses and defenses improve or regress. Oregon State had the most improved defense in the conference in 2012. It regressed the most in 2013.

So who is poised to make a big jump this fall? We're breaking it down by division. We looked at the North on Monday, when we projected the Beavers to again reverse course, this time in a positive way. Today it's the South.



A couple of surprising entrants here. Who expected to see Arizona State in the bottom three? And Utah, traditionally, is a defense-first team.

Truth is, neither Arizona State nor Utah played lousy defense last year. Part of the points-per-game issue here is schedule: They played against the nation's two toughest schedules last year. Neither padded its stats with single-digit efforts against overmatched nonconference foes. The Sun Devils ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in scoring defense against conference foes, and the Utes ranked eighth.

The Sun Devils also ranked first in the conference in forced turnovers (33) and third in sacks per game (2.86).

Still, Arizona State gave up 30 or more points seven times last year. The Utes gave up 51, 44 and 49 in losses to Oregon State (in overtime), Oregon and Washington State.

Turning from the past to the present prospects, the Sun Devils and Utes are both replacing several key players heading into 2014. As we've previously noted, not only did Arizona State lose nine starters, it lost all of its defensive stars. Six of the departed players were first-team or second-team All-Pac-12. Two others were honorable mention.

While stranger things have happened, Arizona State's defense is not the most likely Pac-12 unit to improve its 2013 performance this fall.

Meanwhile, Utah also has some questions. Outside linebacker/defensive end Trevor Reilly, a first-team All-Pac-12 selection, was highly productive. Defensive tackle Tenny Palepoi was second-team All-Pac-12 and a load in the middle. Big corner Keith McGill was an NFL draft pick and linebacker Jacoby Hale blew out his knee this spring, a huge drag.

That said, the Utes have more obvious answers than the Sun Devils, starting with DE Nate Orchard, an NFL prospect, whom Kyle Whittingham and coordinator Kalani Sitake -- read his thoughts here -- are high on. The return of versatile defender Brian Blechen, who missed the 2013 season because of injury, also will provide a boost. Sitake seemed pretty optimistic about his defensive line, where success starts for a defense, particularly a 4-3.

Colorado fans have been waiting patiently, so here's the reward: The Buffaloes seem the most likely to improve in 2014, though the conference's depth at quarterback is going to stress every defense in the league.

While the Buffs aren't likely to make an 11-point improvement, as Arizona did last year, there's reason to believe they can cut five-plus points from their 2013 points-per-game average.

While the pass rush is a question -- it was among the nation's weakest last year even with Chidrera Uzo-Diribe -- all three levels, most notably the secondary, seem likely to improve. The Colorado schedule is also more forgiving than those of Arizona or Utah.

Pac-12 lunch links

June, 2, 2014
Jun 2
2:30
PM ET
I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.

Pac-12 lunch links

May, 30, 2014
May 30
2:30
PM ET
Happy Friday!
Dates, times and early TV schedules have been released for the early portion of the 2014 season. Here’s a comprehensive list, team-by-team of what has been scheduled.

ARIZONA:
  • Friday, Aug. 29 vs. UNLV, 7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
  • Thursday, Sept. 4 at UTSA, 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1
  • Saturday, Sept. 13 vs. Nevada, 8 p.m. PT/11 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks
  • Thursday, Oct. 2 at Oregon, 7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
  • Friday, Nov. 28 vs. Arizona State, 12:30 p.m. PT/3:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports
ARIZONA STATE:
  • Thursday, Aug. 28 vs. Weber State, 7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks
  • Saturday, Sept. 6 at New Mexico, 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET, CBSSN
  • Saturday, Sept. 13 at Colorado, 7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET, ESPNU
  • Thursday, Sept. 25 vs. UCLA, 7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1
  • Friday, Nov. 28 at Arizona, 12:30 p.m. PT/3:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports
CALIFORNIA:
  • Saturday, Sept. 6 vs. Sacramento State, 12 noon PT/3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks
  • Friday, Oct. 24 vs. Oregon, 7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1
  • Thursday, Nov. 13 at USC, 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET, ESPN
COLORADO:
  • Friday, Aug. 29 at Colorado State, 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET/FOX Sports 1
  • Saturday, Sept. 13 vs. ASU, 7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET, ESPNU
OREGON:
  • Saturday, Aug. 30 vs. South Dakota, 7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 ET, Pac-12 Networks
  • Saturday, Sept. 6 vs. Michigan State, 3:30 p.m. PT/6:30 p.m. ET, FOX/FOX Deportes
  • Saturday, Sept. 13 vs. Wyoming, 11 a.m. PT/2 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks
  • Thursday, Oct. 2 vs. Arizona, 7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
  • Friday, Oct. 24 at Cal, 7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1
OREGON STATE:
  • Saturday, Aug. 30 vs. Portland State, 1 p.m. PT/4 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks
  • Saturday, Sept. 6 at Hawai’i, 7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET, CBSSN
  • Thursday, Oct. 16 vs. Utah, 7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1
STANFORD:
  • Saturday, Aug. 30 vs. UC-Davis, 1 p.m. PT/4 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks
  • Saturday, Sept. 6 vs. USC, 12:30 p.m. PT/3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
  • Saturday, Sept. 13 vs. Army, 2 p.m. PT/5 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks
  • Saturday, Oct. 4 at Notre Dame, 12:30 p.m. PT/3:30 p.m. ET, NBC
  • Friday, Oct. 10 vs. Washington State, 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET, ESPN
  • Friday, Nov. 28 at UCLA, 12:30 p.m. PT/3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
UCLA:
  • Saturday, Aug. 30 at Virginia, 9 a.m. PT/2 noon ET, ESPN
  • Saturday, Sept. 6 vs. Memphis, 7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks
  • Saturday, Sept. 13 vs. Texas, 5 p.m. PT, 8 p.m. ET, FOX/FOX Deportes
  • Thursday, Sept. 25 at ASU, 7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1
  • Friday, Nov. 28 vs. Stanford, 12:30 p.m. PT/3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
USC:
  • Saturday, Aug. 30 vs. Fresno State, 4:30 p.m. PT/7:30 p.m. ET, FOX/FOX Deportes
  • Saturday, Sept. 6 at Stanford, 12:30 p.m. PT/3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
  • Saturday, Sept. 13 at Boston College, 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/ESPN2
  • Thursday, Nov. 13 vs. Cal, 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET, ESPN
UTAH:
  • Thursday, Aug. 28 vs. Idaho State, 4:30 p.m. PT/7:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks
  • Saturday, Sept. 6 vs. Fresno State, 12 noon PT/3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks
  • Thursday, Oct. 16 at Oregon State, 7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1

WASHINGTON:
  • Saturday, Aug. 30 at Hawai’i, 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET, CBSSN
  • Saturday, Sept. 6 vs. Eastern Washington, 12 noon PT/3 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks
  • Saturday, Sept. 13 vs. Illinois, 1 p.m. PT/4 p.m. ET, FOX Sports
WASHINGTON STATE:
  • Thursday, Aug. 28 vs. Rutgers, 7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1
  • Friday, Sept. 5 at Nevada, 7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
  • Saturday, Sept. 13 vs. Portland State, 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks

Pac-12 lunch links

May, 28, 2014
May 28
2:30
PM ET
I know we usually start with song lyrics, but in honor of the extraordinary Maya Angelou, who passed away Wednesday morning, I thought it'd be appropriate to start Wednesday's lunch links with one of my favorite quotes from her.

"I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back."

Now, on to the links.

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