Camp is finally under way for Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham and the University of Utah football team. This time around expectations are high as the Utes try to reverse their fortunes from the previous two seasons when they failed to reach a bowl game or even a .500 record.
If the Utes are to get over the hump in a very difficult Pac-12 this season they are going to need to have plenty of players step up in a big way. This list ranks the most important Utah players to the success of the team this season. These guys will have the most impact of anyone on whether the Utes go bowling for the first time in three years.
Here is a look at the most important players for Utah to have a successful season in 2014.
Poole led the Utes in rushing in 2013 with 607 yards and two touchdowns on 149 attempts. He is also the only player from a group of balanced running backs returning. For the Utes to have success, he needs to provide big plays and plenty of leadership for the incoming backs. After all, he knows the ropes and exactly what it means to compete in one of the best conferences in the country.
The Utes return a great deal of talent in the secondary and they will need all of it to compete against a litany of talented quarterbacks. He put up solid numbers in his first season on the field with Utah (33 tackles and five passes defended), and needs to do more of the same for the Utes to return to a bowl game.
Carter was expected to make an impact for the Utes after he signed in 2013, but ended up spending the year at El Camino College finishing up some academic requirements, leaving him with just one year of eligibility at Utah. With the move of Eric Rowe to cornerback, Carter will need to step in and make big plays in the opponents' running and passing game for the Utes to have any kind of success in the upcoming season.
Like Carter, Blechen is a senior who wasn't on the field in 2013. He is a hard-hitting safety with the nose for the football and he has the ability to make every play on defense when he is at the top of his game. For the Utes to climb up the ladder in the Pac-12 South and survive the dual-threat quarterbacks who are all over their schedule this season that is exactly where he needs to be.
After a solid sophomore campaign, expectations were high for Scott going into the 2013 season, but he lasted less than a quarter before he suffered a season-ending injury. With that loss, the Utes had only one real weapon in the passing game in 2013. Now that he is back to full strength, he will need to take the pressure off of Dres Anderson and give Travis Wilson another reliable option in the passing game.
With the losses of Gionni Paul and Jacoby Hale, Whittingham will be looked upon to carry the load until they can return to the lineup. Whittingham had an impressive season in 2013 with 81 tackles, including five for loss, four passes defended and one sack in earning honorable mention All-Pac-12. He will need to be even better in 2014 for the depleted line backing core to hold up against the brutal schedule awaiting the Utes.
After three impactful seasons as a starting safety, Rowe will try to follow in the foot steps of Keith McGill and make the jump to corner for his final year of eligibility. Rowe finished the 2013 season with 69 tackles and seven passes defended from his free-safety spot. For the Utes to enjoy a better year this time around, he will need to put his speed to work and become a lock-down cover corner.
After a season in which Anderson was the only Ute to catch more than 32 passes or record more than 475 receiving yards, he is back for his senior season and a shot at propelling himself up the record books for Utah wide outs. He finished 2013 with 53 catches for 1,002 yards and seven touchdowns, even though he was the only real deep threat on the roster. For the Utes to return to their winning ways in 2014, he needs open up the field with big plays and find the end zone even more than a year ago.
Orchard is another one of the dynamic play makers on the defensive side of the ball who returns for his senior season in 2014. After showing flashes of brilliance during his first three seasons at Utah, he needs to step up and fill the shoes left by the departing Trevor Reilly for the Utes to have any kind of success. The most important part of that is to get to opposing quarterbacks early and often so that they don't have time to make big plays down field.
Wilson started of the 2013 season in style with some impressive performances before a series of injuries to his hand limited his effectiveness and a concussion ended his season for good. When healthy, he has a strong arm and good feet. For the Utes to have the most possible success in 2014, he will need to cut down on his interceptions (16 in 2013) and know when to get out of the pocket and run the ball.
There is no question that Poutasi is the most important piece to the success of the Utes is in 2014. After all, he is the one who is responsible to protect Wilson's blind side. Poutasi has made 22 starts in 23 games for the Utes, making him the most experienced returning player on the offensive line. Added to his experience, he has great size and skill to man the left tackle spot for the second year in a row. For the Utes to find their way back to a bowl game in 2013 he will need to be at the top of his game so that Wilson can have the protection he needs to be effective in the pocket.