You could certainly call 2011 "The Year of the Quarterbacks" for Utah's "Big Five" collegiate football teams because, much to absolutely nobody's surprise, the signal-callers at BYU, Utah, Utah State, Weber State and Southern Utah hold the key to each school's success this season.
Indeed, this is definitely "The Year of the Quarterbacks" because:
After coming on strong as a freshman last year, Jake Heaps appears primed for a spectacular sophomore season as Brigham Young University begins its brave new era of football independence.
Utah fans are holding their collective breath and hoping that junior QB Jordan Wynn, coming back from shoulder surgery, can stay healthy all year as the Utes embark on their Pac-12 journey.
Less than a week before its season-opener, Utah State still can't decide on its starting quarterback. Or, at least, the Aggies aren't saying so just yet.
After a four-year run with Cameron Higgins calling the shots at Weber State, junior Mike Hoke steps in to take control of the Wildcats' offense.
Following a monster season in 2010, when he led SUU to its first Great West Conference title, junior QB Brad Sorensen is back to do more damage to opposing defenses. Yep, those four players named above — plus whoever the Aggies pick — could control the destiny of their respective programs when the 2011 campaign gets under way later this week.
Heaps, Wynn and and Sorensen are already proven commodities, each of them piling up impressive statistics during past performances that give their schools reason to be plenty optimistic this season. And Hoke has the tools to step into Higginson's shoes and do so admirably.
Only in Logan, where junior Adam Kennedy and freshman Chuckie Keeton have been battling for the Aggies' starting job, are things still up in the air.
And with the 2011 season just four days away when Utah takes on Montana State on Thursday evening, it's time to look at each school's schedule and make some predictions.
BYU: The Cougars' first three games — at Mississippi, at Texas and home against Utah — could leave them 3-0, 0-3 or more likely somewhere in between.
After that, though, BYU's schedule gets considerably easier with consecutive home games against Central Florida, Utah State and San Jose State. Then, after a trip to Oregon State, the Cougars host lowly Idaho State before facing TCU on the road. After that comes home games with Idaho and New Mexico State, and they finish up the regular season at Hawaii. They should win at least six of their seven home games, and possibly all seven of them. Road wins at Texas, Oregon State, TCU and Hawaii could pose a problem, but eight, nine or even 10 wins are a distinct possibility.
And Heaps will begin his bid to join the long list of great Cougar QBs of the past.
Predicted finish: 9-3.
Utah: After Thursday night's walk-over against Montana State of the Big Sky, the Utes jump into the Pac-12 pool the following week with a game against Southern Cal which could serve as a barometer for the entire season.
Then comes the annual grudge match with BYU — playing that game in September will be tough to get used to — followed by Pac-12 home games with Washington and Arizona State. Road games at Pittsburgh and California follow, and then they alternate home-and-away games against Oregon State, Arizona, UCLA, Washington State and Colorado.
No, Toto, we're definitely not in the Mountain West Conference any more. And if Wynn goes down, the Utes' chances for a solid season could very well go with him.
Predicted finish: 8-4.
Utah State: All the Aggies do to open their season is go on the road to go up against Auburn, the defending national champion. But after that, there's a home game with Weber State and another one with Colorado State. A road game at BYU, who USU soundly beat last season, follows, and then the Aggies alternate home-and-away games with Wyoming, Fresno State, Louisiana Tech, Hawaii, San Jose State, Idaho, Nevada and New Mexico State.
If everything falls into place, Utah State should have a winning season for the first time since the last-90s.
Predicted finish: 7-5.
Weber State: The Wildcats' season starts with a pair of road games against beatable Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponents in Wyoming and Utah State. After that, they jump into Big Sky play by hosting Sacramento State, playing at defending Football Championship Subdivision national champ Eastern Washington, and back home with Idaho State.
Then Southern Utah comes to Ogden, followed by a road game against perennial Big Sky power Montana. Home games with Montana State and Northern Arizona follow, and the Wildcats finish the season up at Portland State.
With only five home games, it'll be tough to finish over .500.
Predicted finish: 6-5.
Southern Utah: Sorensen was picked as the Great West Conference Preseason Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 21 touchdowns and a school-record 3,231 yards last year.
The Thunderbirds are hoping for more of the same this season with a schedule that, with only four home games, is not conducive for success.
After opening the season at South Dakota State, SUU hosts Sacramento State and Texas-San Antonio in consecutive weeks, then plays beatable FBS foe UNLV at Las Vegas. Then comes a home game with North Dakota, followed by three straight road games at South Dakota, Cal Poly and Weber State. The T-birds' final home game with UC Davis is followed by road games at Northern Iowa and Northern Arizona.
Predicted finish: 6-5.
So there you have it — all five "Big Five" schools with winning records.
Of course, this same writer predicted that scenario last year, when Utah State limped home with a 4-8 record while BYU and Weber State both fell somewhat short of the success predicted for them.
Utah and Southern Utah, though, exceeded our expectations last year, reminding us once again that although it's fine and fun to come up with a football forecast, when it comes to what really happens on the field ... that's why they play the games.
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