Phil Steele, author of the best-selling book "Phil Steele's College Football Preview," called in to the Jake and Tony show on 1280 The Zone on Monday to discuss how Utah teams will fare in the upcoming college football season.
Steele started the interview by discussing his expectations for BYU. On the defensive side of the ball, Steele said the he expects BYU to have another strong year.
"Last year the defense was something special holding opponents to season lows most of the year," Steele said. "This year's defense won't be quite to that level, but they're still one of the top 20 defenses in the country."
Steele said the return of senior Kyle Van Noy was an unexpected, albeit welcome surprise.
"I was surprised when Kyle Van Noy opted to come back. He would have been an upper pick in the draft, so that was a nice thing for BYU to get him back."
On the offensive side of the ball, Steele compared quarterback Taysom Hill to former quarterback Riley Nelson.
"Sort of atypical for BYU to have a Riley Nelson at the starting quarterback, a guy more of a runner than a passer," Steele said. "Taysom Hill is a really good runner, but also probably an upgrade in the passing department — I think he's going to step in and have a fine season."
Steele praised BYU's strength of schedule as being exceptional since independents can't rely on prescheduled conference games.
"Overall this is a very good BYU team — now the schedule is not easy. Being an independent, I like the way they are scheduling. They are scheduling the big boys and taking them on."
Steele said that he had BYU favored in all but their games against Texas, Wisconsin and Notre Dame, with Utah State being a toss up.
"Add it all up, I think that BYU, despite the tough schedule, has a shot at topping last year's eight-win total."
University of Utah
Steele rated the Utes as having the 12th toughest schedule in the nation.
"It's not easy playing in the PAC-12 as Utah fans have learned. They got a little accustomed to those double-digit win seasons, and they've gone out the window the last two years."
Steele said that the toughness of conference games as well as rivalry games against strong in-state opponents will make Utah's season a difficult one.
"When you look at the schedule, not only are the PAC-12 games tough — and you play nine which makes it difficult — but BYU, having to play them on the road, and a very good Utah State and a little bit of an underrated Weber State as well, there's not a lot of soft spots on that schedule this year."
According to Steele, Utah will lose 34 lettermen from last season, but there are a number of key players that will be returning.
"There’s some players available. I think Travis Wilson will be a good quarterback for them; he was one of my top-rated quarterbacks coming out of high school," Steele said. "Defensively they've got six starters back on that side of the ball, although they do lose 16 lettermen."
Steele said that a few key wins could propel Utah's season and, although he doesn't see them playing in a bowl game this year, fans can expect improved play from the Utes.
"When I look at their schedule, things are a little different than when I look at BYU's schedule. To me, the key to Utah's season is going to be their toss-up games. How do they do at home against Oregon State? How do they do at home against UCLA, home against Arizona State, at Washington State? If they can win three of those four games, they could get back to a bowl, but for the record I did not put them on my most-improved list, so I did not project them for a bowl game this year," Steele said. "I think we're going to see improved play out of Utah. It's just a killer schedule they're taking on."
Steele said that the hiring of Dennis Erickson to be co-offensive coordinator for the Utes was a good coaching move by the team.
"I think its a good fit, a real good fit bringing him in as an offensive coordinator, and I think you will see Utah be more explosive on the offensive side."
BYU also had changes on the offensive side of the ball bringing in Robert Anae. Steele said that while he expects Anae to have more immediate success, Utah's hiring Erickson would pay off in the long run.
"I think this year you're going to see Anae have more success," Steele said. "I do think Erickson, if he sticks around long enough, a couple years, even next year, you would start seeing his effect on the offense right then, but for this year, I'll go with Anae."
Coming off one of the best seasons in school history, and gearing up to join the Mountain West next season, Steele says that Utah State may not match last season’s success but will still have a strong season.
"I don't know if they can match what they did last year, 11-2 — that was just a phenomenal season," Steele said. "I don't like the fact that they are losing their head coach. I don't like the fact that they are taking a step up in conference play. I don't see them matching last year’s 11-win total, but I actually have them favored in nine of their games, so getting to 10 shouldn't even be a problem if they win their bowl game."
After helping the team to an 11-win season last year, coach Gary Andersen took a job at Wisconsin. Steele said that Wisconsin could have a shot at a fourth straight Big 10 title.
"I think he steps into a really good situation," Steele said. "Schedule's a lot softer, you look at the games they'll be favored would be 10 this year, if they knock off Ohio State on Sept. 28, it looks like they could have a fourth Big 10 title. I'm not calling it. I think they lose that game and come in second in the Leaders Division, but double-digit wins. They could actually have a better team and a better record, but not take home the Big 10 title like they did last year."