45. Florida State
The Seminoles are only 21-26 over the last four years. Can coach Mike Norvell get this team on track in his second season? A normal offseason should help the staff get both sides of the ball on track. However, a brutal schedule doesn’t leave much room for error to get to a bowl.
Offensive Strength: If UCF transfer McKenzie Milton is back to full strength from a serious leg injury suffered in the 2018, it’s a huge boost to the quarterback room for Florida State. The backfield looks solid with Jashaun Corbin and Lawrance Toafili competing for carries. The offensive line isn’t where it needs to be but is on the right track going into ’21.
Offensive Concern: Improving along the offensive line and getting better quarterback play would be huge for Florida State. Can Norvell get a big jump out of both positions in 2021? The Seminoles are thin on proven options at receiver.
Defensive Strength: The transfer portal will provide instant help. Linemen Jermaine Johnson and Keir Thomas, along with defensive backs Brandon Moore and Jammie Robinson, will help a unit that surrendered 36 points a game and 6.5 yards per play last season.
Defensive Concern: As mentioned above, this group struggled mightily last season. How much improvement can coordinator Adam Fuller generate in one year? The pass rush also needs a spark (just 10 sacks in 2020), while the secondary ranked 14th in the ACC in pass efficiency defense.
The Panthers are coming off their third consecutive season of a .500 or better record under coach Pat Narduzzi. Contending for the Coastal Division title is likely out of reach this year, but with an improved offense, Pitt could push for eight wins this fall.
Offensive Strength: Quarterback Kenny Pickett will be a rare fifth-year starter and will be throwing to a group of receivers that includes Jordan Addison, Taysir Mack and Shocky Jacques-Louis. Israel Abanikanda could give the ground game a needed spark in 2021. Three starters return up front.
Offensive Concern: The Panthers have ranked near the bottom of the ACC in yards per play in each of the last two seasons and finished 10th in scoring (29.0) last fall. The offense generated only one run of 40-plus yards and averaged just 3.2 yards per carry in 2020. Center Jimmy Morrissey will be missed.
Defensive Strength: Pitt paced the ACC by limiting offenses to 4.88 yards per play in 2020. Also, the Panthers held teams to 24.5 points a game, led the conference in rush defense and generated 46 sacks. Narduzzi and coordinator Randy Bates have some retooling to do, but this unit should remain one of the better groups in the ACC. A healthy return from cornerback Damarri Mathis is a boost to the secondary. The linebacker unit could be among the best in the conference.
Defensive Concern: A few key cogs in last year’s group – ends Rashad Weaver and Patrick Jones and safeties Damar Hamlin and Paris Ford – have departed. The Panthers also need to cut down on the big plays allowed (13 of 40-plus yards).
The Wildcats have won two out of the last three Big Ten West Division titles. Even with only seven returning starters for 2021, expect coach Pat Fitzgerald’s team to be in the mix for the division crown once again.
Offensive Strength: The Wildcats return a solid foundation up front, which includes rising star left tackle Peter Skoronski. Running back Cam Porter should push for All-Big Ten honors. Transfer quarterbacks Hunter Johnson and Ryan Hilinski were both top-100 recruits out of high school.
Offensive Concern: After averaging only 3.9 yards a play in Big Ten games in 2019, Northwestern upped that mark to 4.7 last fall. Is there more improvement on the way for ’21? More big plays are needed after recording only two of 40-plus last year. Will Johnson or Hilinski provide steady play under center? Also, no returning Northwestern receiver or tight end caught more than seven passes last season.
Defensive Strength: Track record. Even with new play-caller Jim O’Neil replacing Mike Hankwitz, Northwestern has a track record of producing standout defenses under Fitzgerald. Several key players are gone, but there’s a good foundation in place, which includes safety Brandon Joseph and linebacker Chris Bergin.
Defensive Concern: Matching last year’s yards per play allowed (4.86) might be tough with all of the new faces in starting roles. Can O’Neil provide a seamless transition from Hankwitz?
42. Boston College
The Eagles exceeded expectations in coach Jeff Hafley’s first year with a 6-5 mark. Now with an experienced roster and one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks in place, a favorable schedule should allow Boston College to push for eight wins. Winnable matchups in crossover play (Virginia Tech and at Georgia Tech) and home dates against NC State, Wake Forest and Florida State dot the slate for 2021.
Offensive Strength: Quarterback Phil Jurkovec returns after a strong debut in Chestnut Hill. The Eagles return all five starters up front to form one of the top offensive lines in the ACC. Tight end Hunter Long will be missed, but Jurkovec won’t lack for targets with Kobay White, Zay Flowers and Jaelen Gill on the outside.
Offensive Concern: Who steps up at tight end? Boston College needs to run the ball a lot better after posting just 3.1 yards per carry in 2020.
Defensive Strength: Hafley’s background on defense, combined with nine returning starters, should help Boston College take a step forward on this side of the ball in 2021. This defense successfully limited big plays and forced 21 takeaways last year.
Defensive Concern: The Eagles have room to improve here after giving up 28.4 points a game, finishing sixth in the ACC against the run and surrendering 6.1 yards per play. Two key linebackers – Max Richardson and Isaiah McDuffie – departed after 2020.
41. Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech went 19-8 in coach Justin Fuente’s first two years but is only 19-18 over the last three seasons. The Coastal Division is always unpredictable, so an experienced team like the Hokies could surprise if the pieces fall into place.
Offensive Strength: The Hokies have a strong trio of options in the passing game for quarterback Braxton Burmeister with receivers Tre Turner, Tayvion Robinson and tight end James Mitchell. The offensive line should be solid thanks to three returning starters. Burmeister has also played well in limited time in Blacksburg.
Offensive Concern: Can Burmeister translate his solid play overall full season? Which running back steps up to replace Khalil Herbert? The Hokies need to develop more depth along the offensive line.
Defensive Strength: Coordinator Justin Hamilton should benefit from a full offseason to work with the defense. The return of a healthy Jermaine Waller at cornerback is a big boost to the pass defense. End Amare Barno (6.5 sacks) is likely to rank among the ACC’s top pass rushers. Clemson transfer Jordan Williams is a key pickup for the trenches.
Defensive Concern: Virginia Tech has work to do on this side of the ball after giving up 32.1 points and just over 180 rushing yards a contest last year. Also, the Hokies allowed 6.2 yards a play – up from 5.23 in 2019.
40. NC State
The Wolfpack rebounded in a big way last season. After a 4-8 finish in 2020, NC State went 8-4 and lost two of those games by three points or less. The schedule features a tough crossover (Miami and North Carolina), along with a road trip to Mississippi State in non-conference play this year.
Offensive Strength: NC State returns one of the ACC’s top backfields and receiving corps. Quarterback Devin Leary is back after missing the last seven games due to injury. The pieces are also in place to have one of the conference’s top offensive lines, especially with left tackle Ikem Ekwonu and center Grant Gibson anchoring the group.
Offensive Concern: The offense improved under new play-caller Tim Beck last year but more is needed. NC State averaged 5.5 yards a play in 2020 – up from 5.18 in ’19. Also, the scoring average jumped to 30.2 – up from 22.1. The Wolfpack need to produce more big plays and could use more consistency from the ground game (3.4 ypc). The offense also lost 19 turnovers last year.
Defensive Strength: The Wolfpack improved on defense last season, and nine returning starters provide a foundation to take another step forward in ’21. The linebacker unit is strong thanks to the return of Payton Wilson, Isaiah Moore and Drake Thomas.
Defensive Concern: The departure of lineman Alim McNeil leaves a void up front, especially after NC State ranked seventh in the ACC versus the run last year. This unit has room to improve after allowing 31.3 points in ACC matchups in 2020.
The Bruins are just 10-21 under Chip Kelly, but a breakthrough season could be coming in 2021. All four losses in ’20 came by six points or less, and the defense showed signs of improvement to go with an offense that averaged 35.4 points a game. The schedule is tough, but a bowl game should be attainable.
Offensive Strength: Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson averaged 285.2 total yards a game last season and took a step forward in his overall development. UCLA’s offensive line has been a source of concern in recent years but should be a strength in 2021. Brittain Brown and Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet are an effective one-two punch at running back.
Offensive Concern: Can Thompson-Robinson build on last year’s progress with his best all-around season for the Bruins? Although the Charbonnet-Brown combo is solid, running back Demetric Felton will be missed. UCLA needs more big plays out of the passing game and must be better at not giving the ball away (13 lost turnovers last year).
Defensive Strength: Improvement and 10 returning starters. After allowing 6.7 yards per play and 34.8 points a game in 2020, the Bruins cut those totals to 5.4 a snap and 30.7 a contest. This defense finished second in the Pac-12 versus the run and paced the conference in sacks.
Defensive Concern: UCLA still needs more overall improvement out of unit. Also, situational stops – third downs and inside the red zone – have to get better. End Osa Odighizuwa leaves big shoes to fill. The Bruins finished sixth in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense last year.
The Golden Gophers were unable to build off their 11-2 record from 2019 last fall with a 3-4 mark in seven contests. However, with normalcy returning this offseason, Minnesota hopes to rebound in a big way for 2021.
Offensive Strength: Mike Sanford Jr. took over the play-calling duties last year, but the unusual offseason limited his ability to develop this group. A normal spring and fall practice should help Minnesota’s offense get back on track after averaging 5.7 yards per play in 2020. Quarterback Tanner Morgan, a strong offensive line and running back Mohamed Ibrahim are back in ’21.
Offensive Concern: Can Sanford get Minnesota back to its 2020 production (34.6 ppg)? Who steps up to replace first-round pick Rashod Bateman at receiver? Also, the Golden Gophers need to find an answer at kicker.
Defensive Strength: The Golden Gophers struggled on this side of the ball last year but held Big Ten opponents to 20.1 points a game in 2019. Was the unusual nature of the ’20 season to blame for the dip in production? Each level of the defense features an All-Big Ten candidate – DL Boye Mafe, linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin and cornerback Coney Durr. Clemson transfer Nyles Pinckney should provide a boost to a struggling run defense.
Defensive Concern: The numbers weren’t pretty for this group in 2020. Minnesota allowed 30.1 points a game, ranked 12th in the Big Ten versus the run, generated only eight sacks and gave up too many big plays.
Jay Norvell has guided Nevada to three consecutive winning seasons and bowl appearances, but the 2021 squad should be the best of his tenure in Reno. The Wolf Pack won’t lack for firepower on offense behind quarterback Carson Strong and a deep group of receivers on the outside. A road trip to Boise State looms large in early October, but San Jose State visits Nevada in November.
Offensive Strength: Nevada has some serious firepower on this side of the ball. Quarterback Carson Strong (27 TDs in 2020) is among the top 25 signal-callers in the nation, and the junior won’t lack for receiving options thanks to the return of receivers Romeo Doubs, Elijah Cooks and Melquan Stovall and tight end Cole Turner. Running back Toa Taua is also back after running for 675 yards in 2020.
Offensive Concern: The Wolf Pack don’t have a ton of glaring issues on this side of the ball. However, the offensive line allowed 20 sacks last year and could stand to improve in pass protection and clearing lanes for runners.
Defensive Strength: Coordinator Brian Ward brought improvement to this group last season, as Nevada limited teams to 23.3 points a game (down from 31.9) and offenses to 5.4 yards a snap (down from 6.1). A healthy Dom Peterson should make a difference up front, and the Wolf Pack are set at linebacker with the return of Lawson Hall in the middle. The transfer portal brought instant help to a secondary in need of improvement.
Defensive Concern: Last season was a step in the right direction, but Nevada needs more out of its defense to push for a finish in the top 25. Creating more takeaways (nine last year) is a must in 2021. The Wolf Pack also need to cut down on the big plays allowed (nine of 40-plus yards last season).
With 20 returning starters, including a handful of key offensive weapons from a unit that averaged 38.2 points a game last season, Liberty should push for another finish in the top 25. The Flames went 10-1 last fall, with the only defeat coming at NC State (15-14).
Offensive Strength: Scoring points won’t be a problem for coach Hugh Freeze’s offense in 2021. Quarterback Malik Willis is among the best in college football, and the Flames return nearly every major contributor at running back and receiver. All five starters are back along an offensive line that allowed 22 sacks in 11 contests.
Offensive Concern: Any concerns are minimal here. Liberty could do a better job at limiting turnovers after losing 16 in 2020. Also, this unit ranked 101st nationally in red zone offense last fall.
Defensive Strength: Similar to the offense, returning experience is a big reason to believe this group will be just as strong as it was in 2020. The Flames return 10 starters here, including ends TreShaun Clark (5.5 sacks) and Durrell Johnson (8.5) and safety Javon Scruggs (69 tackles). A couple of transfers – Duron Lowe (CB), Skyler Thomas (S) and Rashaad Harding (LB) – will provide more depth or the ability to push for starting jobs.
Defensive Concern: Linebacker Anthony Butler (67 tackles in 2020) will be difficult to replace.
Mark Stoops has guided Kentucky to at least four SEC wins in four out of the last five years. If the offense takes a step forward, the Wildcats can push for eight or nine victories in 2021.
Offensive Strength: Linemen Drake Jackson and Landon Young leave big shoes to fill, but the foundation is still strong up front. Running back Christopher Rodriguez Jr. is primed for a huge season, and Nebraska transfer Wan’Dale Robinson is a needed playmaker on the outside.
Offensive Concern: New play-caller Liam Coen is tasked with improving an offense that has finished last in the SEC in passing for three straight years and averaged only 21.8 points a game in 2020. How quickly can Kentucky make a successful transition on offense? Also, Coen needs to identify an answer at quarterback (likely Penn State transfer Will Levis).
Defensive Strength: The Wildcats have finished in the top five in the SEC in scoring defense for three straight years. This unit returns only four starters but a good foundation is in place. End Josh Paschal, linebacker DeAndre Square and safety Yusuf Corker are All-SEC candidates.
Defensive Concern: Both starting cornerbacks from 2020 have departed and more pressure on opposing quarterbacks (15 sacks last year) is needed. How fast will the new pieces fall into place?
A 5-5 record with a limited offseason and first-year coach was a good result for Missouri in 2020. With the transition season under their belts, the Tigers should be better in ’21.
Offensive Strength: The Tigers upped their per-play average (SEC-only games) from 4.7 in 2020 to 5.6 last fall. The entire unit should benefit from a full offseason to work under Drinkwitz, and quarterback Connor Bazelak is back after a promising freshman year.
Offensive Concern: Top running back Larry Rountree has departed, but Tyler Badie should be an effective replacement. The Tigers need more playmakers to step up at receiver, while top tackle Larry Borom departed to the NFL.
Defensive Strength: New play-caller (and former NFL coach) Steve Wilks inherits pieces to work with up front, including edge rusher Trajan Jeffcoat (six sacks) and linebackers Devin Nicholson and Blaze Alldredge.
Defensive Concern: Missouri allowed 6.1 yards per play and 32.3 points a game last fall, so Wilks has a lot of work to do. Also, the secondary ranked eighth in the SEC versus the pass last year and is thin on depth at safety.
33. West Virginia
Last year’s 6-4 mark showed the Mountaineers are headed in the right direction under coach Neal Brown. Contending for a spot in the Big 12 title game will hinge on how well the defense can replace a couple of key cogs and how far the quarterback position develops.
Offensive Strength: West Virginia increased its scoring average to 26.5 (up from 20.6) and its per-play production to 5.4 (up from 4.9) last season. The offensive line look a step forward last season and should continue to progress in 2021. Running back Leddie Brown returns after rushing for 1,010 yards last fall. More consistency is needed at receiver, but Brown won’t lack for options.
Offensive Concern: The Mountaineers’ hopes of finishing in the top 25 and inside the top four of the Big 12 standings hinge on the play of quarterback Jarret Doege. The Texas native tossed 14 touchdowns to only four picks but was benched in the bowl game due to inconsistent play. Doege has to be better in 2021. The offense has to find a way to generate more big plays after recording only four of 40-plus yards last fall.
Defensive Strength: This side of the ball was the strength of West Virginia’s 2020 team. The Mountaineers topped the Big 12 in fewest yards per play allowed (4.65) and scoring defense (20.5). Also, this unit finished second in the conference in pass efficiency defense
Defensive Concern: West Virginia still has a good foundation here, but linebacker Tony Fields, safety Tykee Smith, cornerback Dreshun Miller and defensive linemen Darius Stills and Jeffery Pooler will be missed. The Mountaineers need to improve on their third-down package (seventh in the conference) and generate more of a pass rush (22 sacks last year). With five key players departing, can West Virginia maintain its 2020 production?
Jim Harbaugh hit the reset button after a disappointing 2-4 season in 2020. A revamped staff should help Michigan get back on track and improve its fortunes on the recruiting trail. An early test versus Washington will provide plenty of evidence for how far this program has improved since last fall.
Offensive Strength: Hassan Haskins, Blake Corum and true freshman Donovan Edwards anchor a strong backfield. Receiver Ronnie Bell leads the way on the outside, and Harbaugh has a couple of intriguing quarterbacks to develop.
Offensive Concern: Can coordinator Josh Gattis and Harbaugh get this group on track? Who wins the quarterback battle? Also, the offensive line has to improve and more receivers need to step up to help take some pressure off of Bell.
Defensive Strength: The Wolverines allowed 34.5 points a game and 5.5 yards a play last year, but this group has the talent to rebound under new play-caller Mike Macdonald in 2021. The return of end Aidan Hutchinson from injury is a huge boost to the run defense and pass rush. Safety Dax Hill is primed for a breakout year.
Defensive Concern: Macdonald – a former Ravens assistant – is a first-time play-caller. Can he get a talented roster to reach its potential? The Wolverines have to stop the run better after ranking 10th in the conference last year. Also, the secondary struggled and gave up too many big plays.
31. Boise State
Andy Avalos takes over at his alma mater following a stint at Oregon as the program’s defensive coordinator. While Avalos is a first-year coach, the expectations for Boise State in 2021 are still very high. The Broncos are Athlon’s pick to win the Mountain West, but a tough non-conference schedule – at UCF, Oklahoma State and at BYU – will be tough to navigate.
Offensive Strength: New play-caller Tim Plough inherits a group that led the Mountain West in scoring (33.9) last season. The Broncos have two quarterbacks they can win with in Jack Sears and Hank Bachmeier, and the receiving corps is loaded with the return of Khalil Shakir, CT Thomas and Octavius Evans. A healthy George Holani should improve a ground attack that ranked last in the conference last fall. All five starters are back up front.
Offensive Concern: Although Boise State led the conference in scoring, the offense generated only 5.4 yards per play. While every starter returns up front, this unit struggled last season and contributed to the lackluster ground attack. How fast can the Broncos transition to Plough’s scheme?
Defensive Strength: Avalos’ background on defense is a big boost to a Boise State group that slipped on the stat sheet last year. The Broncos allowed 27.1 points a game in 2020 – the highest mark for the program since joining the Mountain West. The good news for Avalos: Nearly everyone from last year’s two-deep is back. Edge rusher Demetri Washington will boost the pass rush if he’s back at full strength from a season-ending knee injury.
Defensive Concern: Even though the defense slipped a bit last year Avalos should be able to get this unit back on track. However, if there’s a concern, it’s in the secondary with both starting cornerbacks needing to be replaced. More turnovers are also needed after Boise State forced just three in seven games last fall.
Gus Malzahn’s arrival at UCF has added another layer of intrigue to one of the top Group of 5 programs in college football. Malzahn plans to keep the Knights’ high-powered offense on track, while bringing needed improvement to a defense that struggled in 2020. UCF will have plenty of fireworks to begin the Malzahn era with Boise State coming to Orlando in the opener.
Offensive Strength: UCF has ranked first or second in the AAC in most yards per play in four consecutive years. Also, the Knights averaged at least 40 points a game every season from 2017-20. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel is among the best in the nation and will be supported by an experienced line. Malzahn’s work in the transfer portal bolstered the skill positions, which already included big-play threat Jaylon Robinson at receiver.
Offensive Concern: How will Malzahn’s offense and Gabriel’s talent mesh in 2021? UCF has room to improve up front in pass protection.
Defensive Strength: UCF gave up 33.2 points a game last season but has the pieces in place to turn things around in 2021. The line received a boost from the addition of transfers Big Kat Bryant and Ricky Barber, and the secondary should improve with an offseason to gain experience. The Knights allowed only five plays of 40-plus yards in ’20.
Defensive Concern: The unusual nature of the 2020 season likely hurt the development of this defense, so some improvement should be anticipated. However, how far can coordinator Travis Williams take it one offseason? Both the rush and pass defense need to show marked development.
It’s a new era on the Plains, as Bryan Harsin begins his first trek through the SEC in 2021. Auburn has the necessary talent to finish higher than the projected fifth-place mark here, but Harsin’s first team has a tough slate in 2021.
Offensive Strength: Harsin’s work with quarterbacks at Boise State should give Auburn optimism he can develop Bo Nix or LSU transfer T.J. Finley. Running back Tank Bigsby is poised for a huge sophomore year.
Offensive Concern: The offensive line is a concern once again, and the top three wide receivers from 2020 have departed. Getting more consistent (and better) quarterback play from Nix or Finley is a must.
Defensive Strength: Derek Mason is one of the top coordinator hires of the 2020-21 cycle, and seven starters are back from a unit that limited opponents to 24.7 points a game. Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe are two of the SEC’s top linebackers, and the secondary ranks among the best in the conference.
Defensive Concern: The Tigers have to adjust to a new scheme. Also, the run defense needs to improve after finishing eighth in the SEC last fall.
28. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys finished 8-3 last season but was just a few plays away from double-digit victories with losses to Texas (overtime) and TCU coming each by a touchdown.
Offensive Strength: Scoring points usually isn’t a problem in Stillwater, and the pieces are in place for another standout offense in 2021. Quarterback Spencer Sanders enters his third year as the starter and better depth and health should translate into improved play in the trenches. New faces need to emerge at receiver, but Oklahoma State usually does a good job of finding the next standouts. Dezmon Jackson, LD Brown and Dominic Richardson are a strong trio at running back.
Offensive Concern: Last season’s scoring average (30.2) was the lowest by Oklahoma State since the offense averaged 27.6 in 2014. Also, the per-play average dipped from 6.4 in ’19 to 5.5 last year. Injuries and attrition had an impact on pass protection (26 sacks allowed), and the offense lost 16 turnovers. Quarterback Spencer Sanders has to play with more consistency and cut down on the interceptions for Oklahoma State’s offense to improve. The Cowboys need a couple of receivers to step up.
Defensive Strength: After giving up 6.04 yards per play in 2018, Oklahoma State cut that total to 5.3 last season. Coordinator Jim Knowles has made a significant impact on this unit, helping the Cowboys hold opponents to 23.5 points a game in ’20. This group could be even better in ’21, especially if end Trace Ford recovers from a knee injury suffered late last year. Linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez and four starters return in the secondary.
Defensive Concern: This group gave up too many big plays and finished sixth in the Big 12 in rush defense. Cornerback Rodarius Williams will be tough to replace.
27. Ole Miss
With a high-powered offense, Ole Miss has the necessary firepower to finish in the top 25. However, after struggling last year, the defense enters 2021 with big concerns in coach Lane Kiffin’s second season.
Offensive Strength: Scoring points won’t be a problem. Quarterback Matt Corral led the nation in total offense per game (384.3 yards) and is supported by one of the SEC’s top lines and backfields. Receiver Elijah Moore will be missed, but the Rebels have options.
Offensive Concern: The Rebels lost too many turnovers (18) and need to improve in the red zone after finishing 11th in the SEC last fall.
Defensive Strength: A full offseason and help through the 2021 signing class should help Ole Miss improve a defense that allowed 38.3 points a game and 6.7 yards a play last year.
Defensive Concern: The stats mentioned above. The Rebels ranked last in the SEC versus the run and nearly gave up 40 points a matchup. How far can this group progress with six returning starters?
The Utes are projected third in Athlon’s predictions for the Pac-12 South but little separates Arizona State and USC with the Utes. If quarterback Charlie Brewer provides steady play, don’t be surprised if Utah ends up hoisting the conference title at the end of the year.
Offensive Strength: Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer should stabilize the quarterback position. The Utes may not have a defined No. 1 running back, but there’s plenty of depth and options here, including a couple of transfers. Tight end Brant Kuithe is underrated, and receiver Britain Covey is one of the Pac-12’s top all-purpose players. The offensive line should rank among the best in the conference.
Offensive Concern: The Utes fortified their receiver depth with a couple of transfer additions, but they have to produce to take some of the pressure off of Covey and Kuithe. Can Brewer deliver as expected? Utah needs to generate more big plays and produce in key situations (third downs and red zone) after struggling last year.
Defensive Strength: Despite replacing several key players from its 2019 defense, Utah held teams to 26 points a game and 5.5 yards per play. Look for this unit to take a big step forward on the stat sheet with eight returning starters, including linebacker Devin Lloyd and a group of defensive linemen that ranks among the best in the Pac-12.
Defensive Concern: With Utah’s track record under coach Kyle Whittingham here, it’s hard to doubt this group. There are some concerns about the secondary after giving up five pass plays of 40-plus yards last year. Safety is a mild issue after RJ Hubert reinjured his knee in the spring.