Bold predictions heading into the 2021 season. Will army of transfers to Utah colleges produce desired results?
The transfer portal has produced plenty of quick fixes for Utah, USU, BYU. The question is: Will the new faces in new places produce wins?
A gob of transfers better deliver because Utah, Utah State, and to a lesser degree, BYU, will saddle up a bunch of them, point to the field, and say, “Save us!” this season.
That’s the nature of college football 2021, where the grass is always greener. The transfer portal has become a kind of Ellis Island, and player rights to choose and be mobile have shaken many programs to the core.
You lose some, you gain some.
Looking inside this state’s FBS programs, there is plenty of potential talent to pick over, but what transfers will find stardom?
Necessity is a great recruiter. Here are some bold predictions.
Ute talent parade
Utah tragically lost sensational freshman running back Ty Jordan after last season to an accidental gun discharge while he was home for the Christmas holiday. Jordan was phenomenal and was named the 2020 Pac 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year. He most certainly would have wound up playing on Sundays.
The Utes needed a Jordan replacement, plus receiver help with Bryan Thompson leaving for ASU and Samson Nacua for BYU. Utah saw an opportunity for a QB answer as Cam Rising recovered from an injury.
Utah’s Kyle Whittingham trucked in Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer, a 65-touchdown, 9,700-yard passer in the Big 12. He then brought in two transfers from Oklahoma, receiver Theo Howard (who spent his first three years catching balls for UCLA) and running back T.J. Pledger. Not to be left wanting, the Utes added LSU transfer running back Chris Curry, then picked up Independence Community College ball carrier Tavion Thomas and USC receiver Munir McClain. On defense, they added Washington linebacker Josh Calvert and safety Brandon McKinney.
Bold prediction: Brewer will lead the Utes to wins over USC and ASU en route to a division title and berth in the Rose Bowl, where Brewer will earn MVP honors. The Utes will finish with 10 wins and a top-12 ranking.
Aggies rebrand themselves
Talk about quick fixes. USU is “Flex Seal of the Rockies.”
New USU coach Blake Anderson is a native of Texas, most recently at pass-happy Arkansas State. Anderson has Texas football in his blood: the speed, the physical play, the love and passion for the game. USU is paying Anderson the No. 74-ranked contract in Division I, a five-year deal worth just over a million a year. Anderson, like Gary Andersen before him, loaded up USU football with transfer fixes.
Anderson brought in his Arkansas State QB Logan Bonner and receiver Brandon Bowling. He added a whopping eight transfers from Power Five programs and seven are expected to be on the two-deep roster. This is added to seven more four-year transfers under Andersen and at least four of those will appear on the two-deep.
Utah State has almost remade its football team with transfers, many from programs such as TCU (OL Quazzel White), Miami (LB Patrick Joyner), Texas (DL Byron Vaughns) and Michigan (DL Phillip Paea).
This has given the Aggies more experience than they put on the field in 2020, a 1-5 disappointing, shortened COVID-19 season.
Bold prediction: USU will upset Washington State on Sept. 4 in Pullman and finish with six wins overall but fourth in a very strong Mountain West Mountain Division. If Anderson wins seven games, give him a bonus of half his salary. The win over WSU will be USU’s best of the season.
BYU: QBs R Us
In Provo, there’s a feeling that Kalani Sitake can start either Jaren Hall, Baylor Romney or freshman Jacob Conover and be successful — give or take a few efficiency points. But it will be Hall who takes the reins against Arizona in the Sept. 4 opener.
“We feel great about three quarterbacks,” said Sitake after Saturday’s scrimmage when asked about separation. “I wouldn’t call it the separation between them.”
The Cougars aren’t without their own transfer file. While coaches are high on Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters they signed out of high school, they went ahead and welcomed in Utah transfer Nick Billoups and Cade Fennegan from Boise State. Other transfer portal products include offensive lineman Hunter Hill and defensive back Jakob Robinson (Utah State by way of Orem High School) and Oregon State defensive back Kaleb Hayes.
The biggest impact players for the Cougars will be Samson Nacua (Utah) and his younger brother Puka Nacua (Washington). This physical, speedy duo will accentuate an already deep receivers room led by Gunner Romney and Neil Pau’u.
The most outrageous bold prediction one could make for the Cougars would be that they upset perhaps what many are calling Whittingham’s best Utah team since the Utes joined the Pac-12. Yeah, that would do it.
But, no straight-jacket is needed. BYU will struggle to protect whatever QB starts this early in the season and there is that tradition of pick-sixes and turnovers that Utah seems to use to own the Cougars the past decade.
Bold prediction: Just because San Jose Mercury sports writer Jon Wilner picked BYU to go 0-5 against Pac-12 teams, I will predict that BYU goes 3-2 against the Pac-12. Wilner’s South Division favorite ASU might just be one of the wins in Provo.
Weber State extends run
Weber State is picked to repeat as the Big Sky champs after winning four straight titles. With Jay Hill at the helm, it is almost unfair in that league. He is so organized, so good at elevating talent and his discipline and coaching are the best.
Weber State transfers include safeties Desmond Williams (Boise State), Braxton Gunther (Utah State), Jemaurri Bailey (Mississippi Valley State), punter Mackenzie Morgan (North Carolina State) and tight end Jordan Allen (Tennessee).
Bold prediction: Title City in Ogden and Hill will find an FBS head coaching job.
Southern Utah rebuild
In preseason Big Sky polls, the Thunderbirds are way down the list. Nobody is giving them a chance to break even in the league. It doesn’t help to start the season against San Jose State of the Mountain West and Arizona State of the Pac-12 for money games.
SUU boasts transfer talent JR Waters, a receiver from Oregon, defensive end Ty Vaimaona from Sam Houston State, corner Jalen Russell, who played at Navy and ASU and linebacker Cameron Dahle from the University of Utah.
Bold prediction: This team will break .500. Have faith.
Dixie State elevates
In St. George, Dixie State doesn’t quite know what it will be called yet, but the football team is excited about making the move to FBS with membership in the Western Athletic Conference.
Coach Paul Peterson has a talented staff and has recruited the Islands of Hawaii and Samoa, and hit Southern California, Utah, Arizona and Nevada hard. The Trailblazers also brought in some transfer talent, led by former BYU quarterback and St. George native Kody Wilstead and running back Malakai Fakahua (BYU). Others include defensive lineman Livingston Paogofie (Colorado State), offensive linemen Kana’i Eldredge (SUU), Cole Watts (Nevada), defensive end Isaac Fotu (Indiana State), tight end Colby Garvin (ASU), long snapper Carson Castro (Weber State), running back Josh Fields (UTEP) and quarterback Kenyon Oblad (UNLV).
The Trailblazers take on Sacramento State in the opener, so we’ll know quickly what they are made of.
Bold prediction: Four WAC wins would be a nice start, five would be magnificent.