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ESPN predicts Utah and USC will battle for Pac-12 South title in 2020

SHARE ESPN predicts Utah and USC will battle for Pac-12 South title in 2020
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FILE — Utah wide receiver Jaylen Dixon (25) makes a catch against Southern California during the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Los Angeles.

Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press

After winning two straight Pac-12 South titles, but losing in the Pac-12 Championship game both years, Utah will be trying to win its third-straight Pac-12 South crown in 2020. ESPN recently previewed the Pac-12 South race — one that could likely come down to Utah and USC.

Despite the Utes’ senior turnover, ESPN still predicts that the Utes will have a good squad, projecting an 8-4 record, which may be enough to win the South. Here’s how ESPN sees the Utes stacking up this year on offense as the Utes break in a new starting quarterback and running back.

Before spring ball was halted, the QB competition was primarily between South Carolina transfer Jake Bentley and Texas transfer Cameron Rising. Both were well-regarded recruits, and while Bentley brings more experience to the table, Rising spent a redshirt year learning coordinator Andy Ludwig’s attack. The line returns every starter but Paulo, and the skill corps is loaded with upperclassmen, from running back Devin Brumfield, to receivers Britain Covey, Jaylen Dixon, Bryan Thompson and Samson Nacua, to tight end Brant Kuithe. Thompson and Kuithe averaged 20.4 yards per catch combined, ESPN writes.

Defense is almost always Utah’s strong suit, but the Utes lost a lot of key players on that side of the ball. Utah will have to have newcomers step up big time to continue last year’s defensive dominance.

The best thing about the defense is its track record. The Utes haven’t ranked outside of the defensive SP+ top 40 since 2006, and they were top 20 each of the past two years. It’ll be hard to avoid regression, though, as free safety R.J. Hubert is the only DB to log more than 50 snaps last year. Whittingham signed blue-chippers in key areas of need — safety Clark Phillips III and ends Van Fillinger and Xavier Carlton — but the turnover is going to hit pretty hard, ESPN writes.