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Pac-12 preview: Does Utah have pieces to finally claim first Pac-12 title?

After winning back-to-back South Division titles in 2018 and 2019 and enduring the strangeness of the 2020 pandemic-plagued season, Utes set to make run at league title this year

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Utah Utes quarterback Charlie Brewer throws during the Red and White Game in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 17, 2021.

Utah Utes quarterback Charlie Brewer throws during the spring game in Salt Lake City on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Brewer, who transferred to Utah after a successful run with the Baylor Bears, will contend for the starting job this fall.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Editor’s note: Tenth in a series of stories examining the 12 football programs in the Pac-12.

After winning back-to-back Pac-12 South titles in 2018 and 2019, Utah experienced the bizarre, pandemic-ravaged season in 2020. 

The young Utes, under coach Kyle Whittingham, gained valuable playing experience during the five-game campaign and almost everybody is back for 2021. 

Plus, they were joined by multiple transfers from Power Five programs during the offseason. 

This summer, one of the most burning questions about Utah football surrounds the quarterback and running back. Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer provides the Utes with a proven commodity. He threw for 9,000 yards at Baylor and completed a perfect 15 of 15 passes in the Utes’ spring game. In August, Brewer will battle Cam Rising for the starting job. 

At running back, Utah is looking for someone to emerge from a group that features Oklahoma transfer T.J. Pledger, Louisiana State transfer Chris Curry and returning Ute Micah Bernard. Freshman Ricky Parks will join the competition this summer. 

Defensively, the Utes are led by linebacker Devin Lloyd, who was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection. The rest of the defense is young but talented. It includes cornerbacks Clark Phillips III and Faybian Marks. 

Does Utah have the pieces to capture its first Pac-12 championship in 2021?

Word on the street

“The Utes wrapped up an abbreviated 2020 season with three straight victories. Twenty starters are expected to return from that team and, aside from quarterback and running back, there are few questions on either side of the ball. Building on the momentum from the final three games of 2020 hinges on figuring out who will lead the offense. Utah’s defense is assured of taking another step forward and becoming a nationally elite unit once again. Can the offense rise to the occasion while breaking in a new signal-caller and new lead running back? If the answer is yes, another Pac-12 South crown — and, perhaps, even a Pac-12 title — is within reach this fall.”

— John Coon, writing for Athlon Sports

By the numbers

2020 record: 3-2 (3-2 Pac-12)

Returning starters: Offense: 8, defense: 10

Local ties

RB Faysal Aden (West HS)

DE Kennan Aiono (Corner Canyon HS)

QB Bryson Barnes (Milford HS)

OL Keaton Bills (Corner Canyon HS)

LB Dylan Brooks (Bountiful HS)

OL Xavier Carlton (Juan Diego Catholic HS)

WR Britain Covey (Timpview HS)

TE Hayden Erickson (Lehi HS)

DE Jonny Fanaika (Pleasant Grove HS)

DE Van Fillinger (Corner Canyon HS)

LB Hayden Furey (Westlake HS)

OL Jaxon Garcia (Cyprus HS)

OL Alex Harrison (Viewmont HS)

DL Devin Kaufusi (Timpview HS)

OL Jaren Kump (Herriman HS)

OL Hunter Lotulelei (Highland HS)

OL Johnny Maea (East HS)

OL Paul Maile (East HS)

OL Shintaro Mann (Timpview HS)

DL Simote Pepa (Bingham HS)

DL Fua Pututau (Cottonwood HS)

LB Taniela Pututau (Cottonwood HS)

DL Tennessee Pututau (East HS)

LB Karene Reid (Timpview HS)

TE Soa Rosales (Provo HS)

WR Kyrese Rowan (Roy HS)

LB Nephi Sewell (Desert Hills HS)

DE Elijah Shelton (Highland HS)

WR Dylan Slavens (Springville HS)

DL Junior Tafuna (Bingham HS)

LB Sione Tuha (Provo HS)

DL Maxs Tupai (Murray HS)

RB Charlie Vincent (East HS)

RB Braedon Wissler (Bingham HS).

2021 schedule

Sept. 2 Weber State

Sept. 11 @ BYU

Sept. 18 @ San Diego State

Sept. 25 Washington State

Oct. 9 @ USC

Oct. 16 Arizona State

Oct. 23 @ Oregon State

Oct. 30 UCLA

Nov. 5 @ Stanford

Nov. 13 @ Arizona

Nov. 20 Oregon 

Nov. 26 Colorado