Utah goes up-tempo with Erickson's help
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham believes his quarterback position may be settled for the first time in several seasons.
The Utes have struggled with injuries and the right fit at QB since 2008. But this season, Travis Wilson is the undisputed starter going into the opener - and hopefully for the year.
''One of the issues we have had the last four seasons - we have had some pretty good years, with the exception of last year - but we have not been able to start and finish a season with the same quarterback for four straight years. That's been a definite liability for us. Brian Johnson in '08 was the last quarterback that we had that was able to do that,'' Whittingham said. ''So we have to get some continuity and consistency at that position. We hope Travis Wilson is going to bring that to us.''
Utah finished 5-7 overall last season and 3-6 in the Pac-12, snapping a streak of nine straight postseason appearances. The Utes have been picked to finish fifth in the league's south division this year by the media who cover the conference, their same finish as last season.
''I got a bunch of texts during the Bowl season from our players, how disappointed they were not being there and how they didn't want that to happen again. Hopefully, we will get our deficiencies corrected,'' Whittingham said.
The Utes return just 13 starters from last season's team. The Utes open the season at home with a Thursday night game against in-state rival Utah State on Aug. 29.
Five things to know about Utah this season:
1. TRAVIS WILSON: The starting QB spot is his to lose. He made seven starts last season as a freshman after seniors Jordan Wynn and John Hayes both went down with injury. He was just the fourth freshman in school history to start a game for the Utes, and went 3-4. He finished with 1,311 yards passing and seven touchdowns. He rushed for four more scores. ''He's a big kid. He's about 6-6, 245 pounds. We feel he's made tremendous strides. We got him in January of 2012 as a true freshman that graduated early from high school. He was about 200 pounds then; he's made a lot of progress in the last 18 months, both physically and mentally,'' Whittingham said.
2. DENNIS ERICKSON: The veteran college and NFL coach was named co-offensive coordinator of the Utes in February and charged with installing a more up-tempo offense. Erickson coached Miami to two national titles, and also had head coaching stints at Washington State, Oregon State and Arizona State - along with a couple of years coaching the San Francisco 49ers. ''If you look at probably the top 10 offenses in college football, all of them run 75, 80 plays,'' Erickson said when he was hired. ''Well, you can't run 75, 80 plays if you're in the huddle.'' Utah averaged about 66 plays a game last year, and the Utes were 105th in the nation in total offense (324.42 yards), and last in the Pac-12 in passing last season.
3. INJURIES: The Utes were stung by injuries in fall camp. Notable among the losses was sophomore linebacker Reshawn Hooker, whose career was ended because of repeated concussions. Hooker, who appeared in three games last season and started two as a true freshman, was moved to strong safety in fall camp to fill a void and soon thereafter sustained a concussion. He will remain at Utah on a medical scholarship. Redshirt freshman defensive end Moses Folauhola had to leave the Utes because of an undisclosed ailment and he too will remain in school. Meanwhile, 6-foot-6, 385-pound offensive lineman Carlos Lozano left Utah after he was unable to practice this fall because of issues with his weight.
4. HEAVY HEARTS: The Utes will wear helmet stickers this season in honor of defensive tackle Gaius Vaenuku, who died in a car accident in New Mexico this summer. Vaenuku, named to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's first-team defense as a senior at Trinity High School in Texas, was an incoming freshman this season. Fellow freshman Salesi Uhatafe, an offensive tackle, survived the accident, which also claimed the lives of his brother, Lolo Uhatafe, and stepbrother Polo Manukainiu, a redshirt freshman at Texas A&M. His father, Salesi Uhatafe Sr., also survived.
5. STRIPE THE STADIUM: The Utes are taking fan participation to another level with plans to ''Stripe the Stadium'' for the season opener against Utah State on Aug. 29. Fans attending the game at Rice-Eccles Stadium have been assigned a color - either red or white - in hopes of creating a striped effect among the 45,000 seats.
Predicted finish in conference: Fifth in Pac-12 South.
Online: AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/