SALT LAKE CITY — What is the ceiling up on the hill for Utah football this upcoming season?
ESPN’s Phil Steele believes it to be about as high as it can get.
Steele has the Utes among his national title-winning dark horses, alongside the likes of the Oklahoma Sooners, TCU Horned Frogs, Miami Hurricanes, LSU Tigers and Arizona State Sun Devils.
In fact, outside of the obvious favorites in Clemson and Alabama — “Like most folks, I am forecasting a return to the national title game for Clemson and Alabama,” he wrote — Steele believes Utah has the fifth-best odds of any team to come away with hardware when it is all said and done.
The projected success of the Utes comes down to a few things, including their defensive line, arguably the best in the country, as well as the return of Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss, and the fact that Utah is fortunate enough not to face either Oregon or Stanford this year — that is until, potentially, the Pac-12 championship game.
“This year's top surprise team is the Utah Utes,” Steele wrote. “Utah has my top-rated defensive line, which goes 11 deep and has six or seven NFL-caliber linemen. All of the other units are solid, including special teams. Utah lost quarterback Tyler Huntley and star running back Zack Moss to injury with five games left in the season last year and still got to the Pac-12 title game and nearly knocked off Washington. Huntley and Moss are both back this season, and Oregon and Stanford drop off the schedule. The Utes are my pick to win the Pac-12, and if they do run the table and make the playoff, they have the defense to win the title.”