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No. 24 Utah aims to elevate passing attack

By JOHN COON Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah could finally have all the right pieces in place this season to add a true passing threat to its traditionally run-heavy offense.
The 24th-ranked Utes are flush with experience and talent at wide receiver and tight end — led by Britain Covey and Brant Kuithe. Covey has led Utah in receiving yards during three of his previous four seasons on the roster while Kuithe finished first in total receptions last season.
“In terms of talent alone, this is by far the most balanced team I’ve ever been a part of in terms of where the firepower is in the offense — quarterback, running back, receiver, tight end,” Covey said.
The Utes also seemingly have the right quarterbacks for the job. Charlie Brewer threw for 9,700 yards and 65 touchdowns in four seasons at Baylor before coming to Utah. Cameron Rising is a pro-style quarterback with a strong arm who showed promise before suffering a shoulder injury against USC last season.
“I feel like we’re going to have a very explosive offense,” Brewer said. “I feel like we’re not just going to be a defensive team. We’re going to be a complete football team.”
A potent passing game would flip the script from earlier seasons where Utah relied on a physical running game and tough defense to grind out victories.
Utah has never ranked higher than seventh in the Pac-12 in passing offense and averaged just 6.7 yards per pass attempt last season. The Utes finished 11th in the league in passing offense in each of the three seasons they won or shared the Pac-12 South crown.
Coach Kyle Whittingham wants to bring more balance to the offense but he wants to do it without sacrificing efficiency or ball security, areas that have been points of strength for the Utes in seasons past.
“We still got to take care of the football and we still got to win the turnover battle each game,” Whittingham said. “That’s not gonna change.”
EXPERIENCED O-LINE
Utah returns all five starters on the offensive line from last season. Nick Ford headlines this experienced unit as the team’s starting center for a second consecutive year. Ford, who has made 26 starts in 30 career games, earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2020.
CLIMBING THE CHARTS
Covey enters the season with a shot at becoming Utah’s career leader in punt return yardage. The junior receiver currently has 665 yards on 63 career returns. He needs just 228 return yards to overtake LaVon Edwards for the top spot.
TACKLE FACTORY
The Utes return all but one of their top 10 tacklers on defense. Headlining that crew is Devin Lloyd. The junior linebacker led Utah in tackles each of the last two seasons with 139 total tackles over that span. Lloyd earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2020 after ranking second in the league in tackles for loss (10).
WELCOME BACK
Jaylen Dixon has rejoined Utah after a one-year absence from the team. Dixon appeared in 28 games at wide receiver, making six starts, during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. His best season came in 2018 when he finished second on the team in total receptions (32) and receiving yards (589) as a redshirt freshman.
SCHEDULE
Utah opens the season hosting Weber State on Sept. 2. The Utes’ fate in the Pac-12 South could hinge on a pair of early October contests. The Utes travel to No. 15 USC on Oct. 9 and then host No. 25 Arizona State a week later on Oct. 16. Win both games and the Utes are in the driver’s seat in the division, with their toughest remaining opponent being No. 11 Oregon, whom they host on Nov. 20.
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AP Top 25: Quick look at rankings from Alabama to Arizona St

By The Associated Press undefined
AP preseason Top 25 capsules:
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No. 1 ALABAMA
Coach: Nick Saban, 15th season.
2020 finish: 13-0, national champion.
Top games: vs. No. 14 Miami, Sept. 4 in Atlanta; at No. 13 Florida, Sept. 18; at No. 6 Texas A&M, Oct. 9.
Potential All-Americans: LT Evan Neal; OLB Will Anderson.
Outlook: Alabama must replace six first-round draft picks, including Heisman Trophy-winning receiver DeVonta Smith. But coach Nick Saban is still around, so the roster is still loaded and the Crimson Tide remain the national title favorite.
No. 2 OKLAHOMA
Coach: Lincoln RIley, fifth season.
2020 finish: 9-2, No. 6.
Top games: vs. No. 21 Texas in Dallas, Oct. 9; vs. No. 7 Iowa State, Nov. 20; at Oklahoma State, Nov. 27.
Potential All-Americans: QB Spencer Rattler; OLB Nik Bonitto.
Outlook: Rattler is Oklahoma’s latest Heisman contender at quarterback, and he’s surrounded by top-tier talent. Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s unit improved dramatically last season, and another jump could help the Sooners get past that semifinal hump and into the national title game.
No. 3 CLEMSON
Coach: Dabo Swinney, 13th season.
2020 finish: 10-2, No. 3.
Top games: vs. No. 5 Georgia, Sept. 4 at Charlotte, N.C.; vs. Florida State, Oct. 30; at South Carolina, Nov. 27.
Potential All-Americans: QB D.J. Uiagalelei; DT Bryan Bresee.
Outlook: Clemson must replace two NFL first-round draft picks in QB Trevor Lawrence and TB Travis Etienne. Uiagalelei shined in filling in for Trevor Lawrence when he missed two games with COVID-19 last year. The defensive line could be the best in the nation.
No. 4 OHIO STATE
Coach: Ryan Day, third season.
2020 finish: 7-1, No. 2.
Top games: vs. No. 11 Oregon, Sept. 11; at No. 19 Penn State, Oct. 30; at Michigan, Nov. 27.
Potential All-Americans: WR Chris Olave; OT Thayer Munford.
Outlook: The big story for the Buckeyes is which one of three inexperienced quarterbacks will take over for Justin Fields. Whether C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller III, or Kyle McCord wins the job, there is an experienced and talented supporting cast.
No. 5 GEORGIA
Coach: Kirby Smart, sixth season.
2020 finish: 8-2, No. 7.
Top games: vs. No. 3 Clemson, Sept. 4, at Charlotte, North Carolina; at Auburn, Oct. 9; vs. No. 13 Florida, Oct. 30, Jacksonville, Florida.
Potential All-Americans: DT Jordan Davis; QB JT Daniels.
Outlook: The offense was hurt by the loss of WR George Pickens to a knee injury in spring practice, but Zamir White leads a deep group of running backs. Smart’s barrage of top-five recruiting classes means there are talented replacements for nine defensive players selected in the NFL draft.
No. 6 TEXAS A&M
Coach: Jimbo Fisher, fourth season.
2020 finish: 9-1, No. 4.
Top games: vs. Colorado, Sept. 11 at Mile High Stadium; vs. No. 1 Alabama, Oct. 9; at No. 14 LSU, Nov. 27.
Potential All-Americans: RB Isaiah Spiller; DE DeMarvin Leal.
Outlook: The Aggies feel like they have unfinished business this season after being left out of the College Football Playoff last year. With a loaded defense and top talent returning at running back, Texas A&M aims to topple Alabama and contend for its first national title since 1939.
No. 7 IOWA STATE
Coach: Matt Campbell, sixth season.
2020 finish: 9-3, No. 9.
Top games: vs. No. 18 Iowa, Sept. 11; vs. No. 21 Texas, Nov. 6; at No. 2 Oklahoma, Nov. 20.
Potential All-Americans: RB Breece Hall; LB Mike Rose.
Outlook: Ten starters are back on offense and nine on defense from the best team in program history. That makes a return to the Big 12 championship game the expectation and a spot in the College Football Playoff the hope.
No. 8 CINCINNATI
Coach: Luke Fickell, fifth season.
2020 finish: 9-1, No. 8.
Top games: at No. 17 Indiana, Sept. 18; at No. 9 Notre Dame, Oct. 2; vs. SMU, Nov. 20.
Potential All-Americans: QB Desmond Ridder; CB Ahmad Gardner.
Outlook: Ridder is a dynamic playmaker and has the receivers to keep revving up the passing game. The Bearcats have a chance to make a splash in early road games at Notre Dame and Indiana that could force the CFP selection committee to take them seriously.
No. 9 NOTRE DAME
Coach: Brian Kelly, 12th season.
2020 finish: 10-2; No. 5.
Top games: vs. No. 12 Wisconsin at Chicago, Sept. 25; vs. No. 8 Cincinnati, Oct. 2; vs. No. 15 USC, Oct. 23.
Potential All-Americans: RB Kyren Williams; S Kyle Hamilton.
Outlook: Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan steps in at quarterback behind a rebuilt offensive line, and new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman takes over a defense that lost three NFL draft picks in the front seven. Another playoff appearance will be tough.
No. 10 NORTH CAROLINA
Coach: Mack Brown, third season in second stint at school.
2020 finish: 8-4, No. 18.
Top games: at Virginia Tech, Sept. 3; vs. No. 14 Miami, Oct. 16; at No. 9 Notre Dame, Oct. 30.
Potential All-Americans: QB Sam Howell; CB Tony Grimes.
Outlook: The Tar Heels have a Heisman Trophy contender in Howell among 18 returning starters on offense and defense. The Tar Heels must replace two 1,000-yard rushers and a 1,000-yard receiver — all lost to the NFL draft — as Howell’s top targets.
No. 11 OREGON
Coach: Mario Cristobal, fourth season.
2020 finish: 4-2, unranked.
Top games: at No. 4 Ohio State, Sept. 11; at No. 20 Washington, Nov. 6; at No. 24 Utah, Nov. 20.
Potential All-Americans: DE Kayvon Thibodeaux; CB Mykael Wright.
Outlook: The Ducks are the clear favorite in the Pac-12 North, but getting to the conference championship game will be a tough task with road tests at Washington and Utah. The early showdown with Ohio State will tell a lot about Oregon and if the Pac-12 has a legitimate playoff contender.
No. 12 WISCONSIN
Coach: Paul Chryst, seventh season.
2020 finish: 4-3; unranked.
Top games: vs. No. 19 Penn State, Sept. 4; vs. No. 9 Notre Dame at Soldier Field in Chicago, Sept. 25; vs. No. 18 Iowa, Oct. 30.
Potential All-Americans: TE Jake Ferguson; ILB Jack Sanborn.
Outlook: Injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak played a role in Wisconsin barely breaking .500 last season. The Badgers have the makings of an elite defense and are banking on QB Graham Mertz leading an offensive rebound.
No. 13 FLORIDA
Coach: Dan Mullen, fourth season.
2020 finish: 8-4, No. 13.
Top games: vs. No. 1 Alabama, Sept. 18; at No. 16 LSU, Oct. 16; vs. No. 5 Georgia, Oct. 30.
Potential All-Americans: DE Zach Carter; CB Kaiir Elam.
Outlook: Mullen turns to dual-threat QB Emory Jones to replace Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask. Coming off the worst defensive season in school history, the Gators have a chance to be considerably improved behind Carter and fellow linemen Gervon Dexter, Daquan Newkirk and Antonio Valentino.
No. 14 MIAMI
Coach: Manny Diaz, third season.
2020 finish: 8-3, No. 22.
Top games: vs. No. 1 Alabama, Sept. 4; at No. 10 North Carolina, Oct. 16; at Florida State, Nov. 13.
Potential All-Americans: QB D’Eriq King; TE Will Mallory.
Outlook: The Hurricanes open in Atlanta against defending national champion Alabama and play at North Carolina in a game that should go a long way toward deciding the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division. Having King back is enormous and if his surgically repaired knee is right, Miami can compete with anyone.
No. 15 SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Coach: Clay Helton, fifth season.
2020 finish: 5-1, No. 21.
Top games: vs. No. 24 Utah, Oct. 9; at No. 9 Notre Dame, Oct. 23; vs. UCLA, Nov. 20.
Potential All-Americans: WR Drake London; P Ben Griffiths.
Outlook: The Trojans have a veteran roster led by three-year starting QB Kedon Slovis running a talented offense. If the defense comes together, USC should be a strong contender for only its second conference title since 2008.
No. 16 LSU
Coach: Ed Orgeron, fifth season.
2020 finish: 5-5, unranked.
Top games: vs. No. 13 Florida, Oct. 16; at No. 1 Alabama, Nov. 6; vs. No. 6 Texas A&M, Nov. 27.
Potential All-Americans: CB Derek Stingley Jr.; WR Kayshon Boutte.
Outlook: The Tigers have numerous players coming back on both sides of the ball to a team that closed its regular season on a two-game winning streak. With more experience across the roster and some key changes made on the coaching staff, LSU is a dark horse in the SEC West.
No. 17 INDIANA
Coach: Tom Allen, fifth season.
2020 finish: 6-2, No. 12.
Top games: at No. 18 Iowa, Sept. 4; vs. No. 4 Ohio State, Oct. 23; at Michigan, Nov. 6.
Potential All-Americans: CB Tiawan Mullen; WR Ty Fryfogle.
Outlook: After producing its best season in more than 50 years, Indiana hopes to take another step forward. QB Michael Penix Jr. (knee) is expected to be healthy for the season opener at Iowa, a game that could help determine whether the Hoosiers will be a legitimate Big Ten contender.
No. 18 IOWA
Coach: Kirk Ferentz, 23rd season.
2020 finish: 6-2, No. 16.
Top games: vs. No. 17 Indiana, Sept. 4; at No. 7 Iowa State, Sept. 11; at No. 13 Wisconsin, Oct. 30.
Potential All-Americans: C Tyler Linderbaum; DL Zach VanValkenburg.
Outlook: The Hawkeyes can contend in the Big Ten West if QB Spencer Petras elevates his game. The back end of the defense should be solid, but there are big holes to fill up front.
No. 19 PENN STATE
Coach: James Franklin, eighth season.
2020 finish: 4-5, unranked.
Top games: at No. 12 Wisconsin, Sept. 4; vs. Auburn, Sept. 18; at Ohio State, Oct. 30.
Potential All-Americans: WR Jahan Dotson; DB Jaquan Brisker.
Outlook: The hope is QB Sean Clifford takes a leap forward under new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich and some big early season games give the Nittany Lions a chance to quickly make 2020 look like an anomaly and not a trend.
No. 20 WASHINGTON
Coach: Jimmy Lake, second season.
2020 finish: 3-1, unranked.
Top games: at Michigan, Sept. 11; vs. No. 11 Oregon, Nov. 6; vs. No. 25 Arizona State, Nov. 13.
Potential All-Americans: LT Jaxson Kirkland; TE Cade Otten.
Outlook: Washington seems poised to make a run at the Pac-12 North. The schedule is decidedly favorable getting Oregon and Arizona State at home, and avoiding both USC and Utah. If the Huskies find some threats in the passing game, they could be in for a special season.
No. 21 TEXAS
Coach: Steve Sarkisian, first season.
2020 finish: 7-3, No. 19.
Top games: vs. No. 23 Louisiana, Sept. 4; vs. No. 2 Oklahoma, Oct. 9 in Dallas; at No. 7 Iowa State, Nov. 6.
Potential All-Americans: RB Bijan Robinson; DT Keondre Coburn.
Outlook: Sarkisian plans to get the ball to Robinson a lot, and must decide between Casey Thompson and Hudson Card at quarterback. Texas has some offensive firepower, but getting over the 7- to 8-win ceiling of much of the past decade could be hard to do.
No. 22 COASTAL CAROLINA
Coach: Jamey Chadwell, third season.
2020 finish: 11-1, No. 14.
Top games: vs. Kansas, Sept. 10; at Buffalo, Sept. 18; at Appalachian State, Oct. 20.
Potential All-Americans: TE Isaiah Likely; QB Grayson McCall.
Outlook: The Chanticleers will try to prove they have staying power in the Sun Belt Conference and on the national scene. McCall and Likely will keep the offense going while last year’s top tackler — linebacker Silas Kelly — should anchor the defense.
No. 23 LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE
Coach: Billy Napier, fourth season.
2020 finish: 10-1, No. 15.
Top games: at No. 21 Texas , Sept. 4; vs. Appalachian St., Oct. 12; at Liberty, Nov. 20.
Potential All-Americans: DB Bralen Trahan; OL O’Cyrus Torrence.
Outlook: The Ragin’ Cajuns are coming off the best season in program history and the coach that has led them to consecutive double-digit win seasons hasn’t yet been lured away by a Power Five program. The Cajuns have 20 starters coming back, including QB Levi Lewis.
No. 24 UTAH
Coach: Kyle Whittingham, 17th season.
2020 finish: 3-2, unranked.
Top games: at No. 15 USC, Oct. 9; vs. No. 25 Arizona State, Oct. 16; vs. No. 11 Oregon, Nov. 20.
Potential All-Americans: LB Devin Lloyd; OL Nick Ford.
Outlook: The Utes return their defense virtually intact from a year ago but have new faces at running back and quarterback. Still, Utah has enough depth, talent, and experience at multiple positions to seriously challenge for a Pac-12 title again.
No. 25 ARIZONA STATE
Coach: Herm Edwards, fourth season.
2020 finish: 2-2, unranked.
Top games: at No. 24 Utah, Oct. 16; vs. No. 15 USC, Nov. 6; at No. 20 Washington, Nov. 13.
Potential All-Americans: RB Rachaad White; DE Tyler Johnson.
Outlook: An NCAA investigation hangs over the Sun Devils as the season starts, but the team is talented and experienced, led by QB Jayden Daniels and a defense that returns 11 starters.
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