Guest-blogger, and die-hard Ute fan Jack contributed to this report.
Ten-win seasons do not grow on trees in most places, but perhaps it's time to consider Salt Lake City as fertile ground for ten-win seasons. Utah's dismantling of Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl made 2009 the program's fifth such season, and '08-'09 its first back-to-back 10-win seasons.
In some ways, Utah's season didn't get underway until the second half of the eighth game of 2009, when Wyoming was threatening to hand the Utes their second loss of the year, and Kyle Whittingham pulled the redshirt off of Jordan Wynn. The 18 year old provided a spark for the offense, going 9-14 with one touchdown in his first collegiate game and win. Wynn finished the season as a starter, going 3-2, including the come-from-behind tie against BYU, which ended in a loss in overtime, triggering commentary from the other starting QB in that game.
While Wynn is the best story for the '09 Utes, Utah's backfield is a similar story, and nearly as good. Franchise back Matt Asiata suffered a season-ending knee-injury early in game four, leaving smaller runners Eddie Wide, Sausan Shakerin, and Shaky Smithson to man the run game. Wide ('10 senior) stepped up in a big way, topping 1,000 yards by year end. Shakerin and Smithson ('10 senior) were effective change-of-pace backs. Asiata may return in 2010, if granted the medical redshirt. Shakerin ('10 soph) will be joined by redshirt Beau Burton and true freshman Princeton Collins as the backup RBs.
The Utes started only one senior on the o-line in '09, all-American Zane Beadles. The Utes' steady recruiting at OL is paying off, and the strong front that maintained the Utes' national top-50 rushing attack in '09 may improve it in 2010. Whittingham insists that the line will not be blocking ahead of a quarterback battle this offseason, despite Terrence Cain's better stats as a signalcaller. (139.4 v. 130.7 QB rating; Cain ran roughly twice as often as Wynn, for slightly more ypc.)
The 2010 signal caller will be throwing to a largely turned-over corps of wideouts. Three of the Utes' top four receivers graduate, taking half of 2009's catches and receiving yards with them. There'll be room on the two-deep for several of the full nine receivers Utah has enrolled in the '09 and '10 classes.
On defense, the situation is nearly reversed. Six of eight 2009 starters off the line were seniors, including standout LBs Stevenson Sylvester and S Robert Johnson. The '09 seniors (DE Misi, LBs Sylvester, Wright, Gaison, CB Sanford, Ss Johnson and Dale) took Utah's pass defense from 22nd in '08 to ninth in '09. Look for a return to something like 22nd in 2010. Over the last two or three years, the Utes have recruited better than any team in the conferece (except perhaps TCU), so expect considerable foment on the two-deep in spring and fall as younger players vie for starting spots in the defense. While Utah returns some of its most talented young players on the line, including DE Christian Cox and DTs David Kruger, Sealver Siliga, and JUCO transfer James Aiono (who redshirted in 2009), it is unclear who will rise to the top of the chart behind them at LB and in the secondary.