Utah Utes

Date with CU: Nov. 17, time TBA, at Folsom Field

Head coach: Kyle Whittingham, 14th year (111-56)

Series: CU leads 32-29-3

Utes in 2017: 7-6, 3-6 Pac-12; defeated West Virginia, 30-14, in Heart of Dallas Bowl

Returning starters: 16 - 9 on offense, 7 on defense

Offensive players to watch (2017 statistics): RG Jordan Agasiva, Sr. (started 10 games in 2017); LT Jackson Barton, Sr. (started all 13 games in 2017); WR Britain Covey, So. (freshman all-American in 2015; returned from LDS mission); C Lo Falemaka, Sr. (All-Pac-12 HM; started all 13 games in 2017); QB Tyler Huntley, Jr. (199-of-312, 2,411 yards, 15 TD, 10 INT; rushing: 168 att., 537 yards, 6 TD); WR Siaosi Mariner, Jr. (20 catches, 393 yards, 1 TD); RB Zack Moss, Jr. (214 att., 1,173 yards, 10 TD; 29 catches, 243 yards); WR Samson Nacua, So. (29 catches, 294 yards, 1 TD); RT Darrin Paulo, Jr. (started at 13 games in 2017); WR Demari Simpkins, Jr. (29 catches, 354 yards, 1 TD)

Defensive players to watch (2017 statistics): DE Bradlee Anae, Jr. (39 tackles, 10 TFL, 7 sacks, 3 forced fumbles); S Corrion Ballard, Sr. (45 tackles, 2 INT); LB Cody Barton, Sr. (45 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries); CB Julian Blackmon, Jr. (48 tackles, 4 INT, 6 PBU); S Marquise Blair, Sr. (48 tackles, 2 PBU); DT Leki Fotu, Jr. (22 tackles, 3.5 TFL); NB Javelin Guidry, So. (31 tackles, 4 PBU); LB Chase Hansen, Sr. (51 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT); DE Mika Tafua, Fr.; LB Donovan Thompson, Jr. (38 tackles, 3 PBU).


Notable: Eight of Utah's 10 losses over the past two years have come by eight points or less, including four last year. ... Utah is the only team in the conference to return its entire coaching staff from last year. ... Utah is one of just 13 FBS teams to have given up an average of 25.0 points or less in each of the last four seasons. Of those 13, only five - Utah, Alabama, Ohio State, Washington and Clemson - also averaged at least 29.0 points on offense in each of those years. ... As a freshman in 2015, Covey, a slot receiver, led the team with 43 catches for 519 yards and 4 TD; averaged 11.7 yards on punt returns with 1 TD; and 24.1 yards on kickoff returns. ... Utah has been to 22 bowl games in its history, with 11 of those coming under Whittingham. He's 10-1 in bowls. ... Offensive coordinator Troy Taylor is No. 2 on the career passing list for California, with 8,126 yards from 1986-89. In 1995, he was a graduate assistant at Colorado. ... A two-year starter at safety and a former quarterback, Hansen is moving to linebacker.

Throughout its seven seasons in the Pac-12 Conference, Utah has established itself as a hard-nosed football team that will play tough defense, excel on special teams and typically find a way to get to the postseason.

Coming into this season, the Utes are also the only team in the Pac-12's South division to never get to the conference title game.

This month, BuffZone.com is previewing each of Colorado's opponents, with this installment focusing on the Utes, who visit Folsom Field on Nov. 17 and hope this is the year they climb to the top.

Although Southern California is the consensus favorite — again — Utah may have the tools in place to push for the Trojans for the division crown.

Entering his 14th season as the head coach in Salt Lake City, Kyle Whittingham is expected to once again have a good defense, and the Utes might have the best duo of kickers in the country.

What could put this year's team over the top is the offense.

A year ago, the Utes were ninth in the conference in scoring, at 29.5 points per game. They've never been higher than eighth in the Pac-12.

Under the direction of second-year coordinator Troy Taylor, however, and led on the field by junior quarterback Tyler Huntley, the Utes might have their best offense since joining the conference.

"I think our players really embrace what Troy is bringing to the table and they like the offensive scheme," Whittingham said in the spring. "If spring ball is any indication, our guys are really excited about the upcoming season and feel very comfortable in what we're doing. We really hit the ground running (in spring). Players feel really comfortable in the scheme. Hopefully we're better for it this year."

Huntley returns for his second year as the starter. Last year, he was third in the conference in total offense — behind top-10 NFL draft choices Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold — and had a strong spring.

"I think I did a good job of bettering myself land bettering this team," he told Utah media after the spring game. "It's going to be a great team."

Talented true freshman Jake Tuttle could push Huntley, but Taylor said Huntley was "exceptional" in spring.

Running backs Zack Moss — who shredded CU last year — Devonta'e Henry-Cole and Armand Shyne are also back. The receiving corps doesn't have a star, but is loaded with talent and boosted by the return of Britain Covey, a 2015 freshman all-American who is back from a two-year LDS mission.

Taylor told Utah media in the spring that Utah might be better overall in the skill positions.

"We lost some good guys, but I think we have a little bit more depth and the guys have a better understanding of what they're doing," Taylor said. "Then, we have some more guys coming in that we think can help us. If we get the guys healthy and we've got all our guys, I feel pretty good about it."

Utah also returns four starters on the offensive line.

Defensively, the Utes have some holes to fill, especially on the line, but that never seems to be a problem for them. End Bradlee Anae, linebacker Chase Hansen and cornerback Julian Blackmon are all among the Pac-12's best, and few teams in the country are as consistently good on defense as the Utes.

On special teams, Matt Gay is the reigning Lou Groza Award winner after going 30-for-34 on field goals, while punter Mitch Wishnowsky is a two-time all-American who won the Ray Guy Award in 2016.

If the Utes continue their success on special teams and defense and get some more production out of their offense, this could finally be the year they represent the South in the conference title game.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33