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Utah losing two Utes to transfer

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No, not two Yutes.  Two Utes.

Tuesday brought a bit of departure upheaval to Utah’s roster, with first wide receiver Siaosi Mariner (not pictured) taking to Twitter to announce his decision to transfer from Kyle Whittingham’s football program and then, a dozen hours later on the same social media website, linebacker Chris Hart (not pictured either) doing the same.  Neither player gave a specific reason for their respective decisions, although Mariner had complained publicly about his role in the offense during this past season.

In 12 games this season, Mariner caught 17 passes for 209 yards and a touchdown, with the former two totals good for sixth on the team.  At least as it comes to the Utes portion of his playing career, the redshirt junior will finish with 785 yards and four touchdowns on his 52 receptions.

Hart was the highest-rated defensive signee in the Utes’ 2015 recruiting class.  Despite the recruiting hype, Hart played in just 15 games the past three seasons after taking a redshirt as a true freshman.  Four of those appearances came this past season, with all of his action coming on special teams.

Smelling roses: No. 11 Washington clinches trip to Pasadena by beating No. 17 Utah in Pac-12 title game

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Use whatever adjective you want to describe the 2018 Pac-12 Championship Game but chances are it will be a synonym of ugly.

And it won’t matter one bit to fans of No. 11 Washington as they topped No. 17 Utah by a very indicative 10-3 score on Friday night to capture the league title for a second time in three years and book their trip to the Rose Bowl Game for the first time since 2001.

As one would expect in a game featuring two of the best defenses West of the Mississippi, offense was hard to come by in this one — both because of what defenders were doing and want offensive skill players were not. Huskies quarterback Jake Browning was again a bit of a liability as a passer with one interception (and several others that could have been picked) but did wind up making a few key plays to move the sticks in the second half and finished the game with 187 yards and a few key scrambles as well. He combined with Myles Gaskin (71 yards rushing) and Salvon Ahmed (28 on the ground) to help Washington dominate time of possession nearly 2-to-1 in the game however, certainly a winning formula given they could lean on their defense pretty much all night.

And what a defensive performance it was.

The Huskies held the Utes to only 188 yards in the game and recorded three turnovers to go with two sacks and numerous pressures. Defensive back Byron Murphy also all but won UW the game in the third quarter with one of the most remarkable pick-sixes you’ll ever see as he snatched the ball off an opposing wideout to return it 66 yards for the game’s only touchdown.

While many in purple will note how good the team is on that side of the ball, there was also plenty of issues getting anything going for the team in red as a 53 yard Matt Gay field goal that barely cleared the crossbar was the only bright spot of the game for the Utes. Quarterback Jason Shelley must have used up all his second half magic last week against BYU as it was rough from start to finish for the youngster in throwing for 137 yards and a trio of interceptions all on consecutive drives across the third and fourth quarters.

Tailback Armand Shyne chipped in with 37 yards rushing to barely outpace receiver Britain Covey and his 14 yards on the ground. Crazy as all those numbers were, the team still had a chance to tie things up in the final few minutes before turning the ball over on downs.

While the ending wasn’t quite what Utah wanted at Levi’s Stadium, it was still a remarkable campaign for Kyle Whittingham as he guided his team to their first South Division title, a victory over their in-state rival and a 9-4 record in the regular season despite losing their entire starting backfield down the stretch.

Washington will wind up with the ultimate prize in the end however, doing just enough on offense to eek out the victory and capture the school’s second Pac-12 championship under head coach Chris Petersen. While the league was knocked out of the College Football Playoff weeks ago, a trip to Pasadena is nothing for any of these schools to overlook and will be a very welcome sight at the beginning of next year when the Huskies take the field at the Rose Bowl for the first time in 18 years.

Let’s just hope UW can figure out an offense between now and taking the field against Northwestern, Ohio State or Michigan in January…

No. 10 Washington too much for Utah as Huskies snag Pac-12 road win

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Washington required a last-ditch punt return for a touchdown to survive their last trip to Salt Lake City but had no need for such heroics this time around as the No. 10 Huskies never trailed in an eventual 21-7 win over Utah on Saturday night that was anything but pretty for either side.

Neither quarterback will want to review tape of the effort as both faced pressure on nearly every snap and compounded problems with bad decisions such as the one Jake Browning made below:

That wild play in the fourth quarter could have been a momentum changer for the Utes but they failed to convert on fourth down near the end zone and wound up empty-handed in the entire sequence. Browning wound up finishing the night with 155 yards and a touchdown throw but it was anything but a sharp performance from the senior who was supposed to play a big role in the team returning to the top of the Pac-12 standings.

Luckily for head coach Chris Petersen he still had a strong running game and a feisty defense to complement it. Tailback Myles Gaskin continued his assault on school and conference record books by racking up 143 yards and scored the first points of the game by diving over the pylon on the opening drive. Safety Taylor Rapp was all over the field defensively and recovered a pair of fumbles, one in each half.

Utah’s defense was also the team’s strength for the most part and did so with at least one starter leaving due to injury and two others getting tossed for targeting. The group continually kept the Utes in the game as it wore on and the entire unit was particularly impressive up front as they seemed to cause some havoc on just about every play.

In the end though, it was once again the offense that proved to be Utah’s biggest issue. QB Tyler Huntley threw for only 138 yards and also had an interception while looking a lot more dangerous on the ground (49 yards rushing). Running back Zack Moss had an early touchdown run and finished with 67 yards on the night but was kept in check for the most part in the second half.

If there was any silver lining for the home team in Salt Lake, it was that the loss by no means wrecks the Utes’ Pac-12 campaign given the state of the South division at the moment. Both USC and Arizona are 1-2 and the rebuilding project Chip Kelly is going through at UCLA looks like it is off to a rough start. Herm Edwards does have a big win at Arizona State under his belt but who knows how things will have played out by the time the two meet in Tempe in November.

Washington will count the game as a win but the effort won’t be encouraging at all to the die-hard Huskies fans out there. While many thought an undefeated run through the Pac-12 slate would still keep those slim Playoff hopes alive, that will not come to fruition at all if the team doesn’t pick things up offensively after such a lackluster effort on the road.

No. 10 Washington holds slim lead over Utah going into halftime

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No. 10 Washington has been on the road before this season and faced big challenges but they’re locked into a tight one as they open Pac-12 play with a 14-7 halftime lead in the difficult environment at Utah.

The Huskies initially looked like they would be able to move the ball fairly well based on their opening drive, which went 65 yards to the end zone in just five plays. Tailback Myles Gaskin’s running helped strike first as he burst through on third down, hit the edge and flew right over the pylon for a touchdown on his way to a 72 yard half.

Backup Salvon Ahmed was a quiet night early on in his shadow while quarterback Jake Browning threw for 110 yards but was sacked twice and seemed to feel the pressure quite a bit.

Luckily the Washington defense looked solid in their own right and limited the Utes to just 137 yards in the half. Zack Moss was responsible for the lone touchdown on the board and racked up 48 yards on the ground but it wasn’t an easy game to move the ball at all. Quarterback Tyler Huntley was nearly more effective on the ground (42 yards) than through the air (43 yards, one interception) and seemed to have a hand in his face with every throw.

This game was billed as a potential Pac-12 title game preview but based on what we saw in the first half, both sides will need to step things up after the break if they want to leave Rice-Eccles with a win.

CFT 2018 Preseason Previews: Pac-12

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If there’s any conference that looks forward to the fresh slate of a new season in 2018, it’s the Pac-12. The league missed the College Football Playoff for the second time in four tries last year and endured a disastrous — to put it mildly — bowl season that saw teams go 1-8 overall with few competitive contests. That’s all in the past though, as commissioner Larry Scott and his 12 schools look to turn the page and underscore that things on the gridiron out West are not quite as dour as the national narrative suggests. There are a handful of legitimate Playoff contenders entering this year’s campaign, a deep middle-class of teams sure to complicate division races and a handful of budding superstars that should factor heavily in the race for the Heisman Trophy once again. While it’s true there’s nowhere, really, to go but up for the Pac-12 in 2018, the conference appears primed to get back on track going forward.

Leading the charge will once again be Chris Petersen’s Washington Huskies, who are on paper the Pac-12’s only truly elite team and a heavy favorite to win the conference crown and make the final four. The group up in Seattle checks off all the boxes you’re looking for in a front-runner, including a savvy quarterback in Jake Browning, elite skill position talent like tailback Myles Gaskin, a stout defense and the best depth in the trenches on both sides of the ball. They’ll have a chance right away to cement their name in the national conversation with a trip to Atlanta to open against Auburn in Week 1, and will also benefit from hosting rival Stanford at home late in the season. Speaking of the Cardinal, they’ll be a contender once again thanks in part to what should be the school’s best offense since the days of Andrew Luck throwing passes on the Farm. Bryce Love headlines the group as a dynamic threat to score from just about everywhere but quarterback K.J. Costello should be able to take some of the pressure off in his second season as the established starter at quarterback. If there’s one area of concern for David Shaw’s team it’s on defense, which is something you could also say for the rest of the teams in the league as well.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12 North, Oregon should be a team that is a regular in the top 25 for Mario Cristobal’s first full year in charge up in Eugene. Quarterback Justin Herbert, when healthy, has the look of a first-round pick behind center and the team should benefit from a relatively stable offseason after so much change the past few years. After the Ducks though, the rest of the division is in various stages of rebuilding mode. Cal was better than their 5-7 record from 2017 suggests and returns most of their offense, but it will still be tough to be a week-in, week-out threat in the Pac-12 until head coach Justin Wilcox can add to the depth on defense. Washington State will always be a pesky thorn in everybody’s side as long as Mike Leach is in charge but the Cougars are facing massive coaching turnover (six new assistants) and it remains to be seen if the program is truly over the tragic loss of quarterback Tyler Hilinski. Oregon State figures to once again remain in the cellar even with a bit of a jolt from new coach Jonathan Smith.

While there’s a somewhat clear pecking order in the North, the Pac-12 South is about as wide-open as the division ever has been. USC once again will trot out the most talent of any of the six teams, but there’s still plenty of skepticism over the future of head coach Clay Helton and just how much depth the Trojans will have come the end of the season. Seeking not to repeat the quarterback controversy from two years ago, Helton has opted to go with true freshman J.T. Daniels at quarterback — a move that could pay off longterm but might lead to issues early as the signal-caller who should still be in high school adjusts to life in the Pac-12. Southern Cal remains the preseason media favorite to win the South but the door is certainly open for two others in Utah and Arizona.

In Salt Lake City, it might just be now or never for Kyle Whittingham’s squad despite a tough slate of crossover games (Oregon/Washington) on the schedule. The Utes get both the Wildcats and Trojans at Rice-Eccles and easily sport the South’s stingiest defense. The offense, a constant issue ever since joining the Pac-12, could be much more consistent than in years past thanks to a backfield that sports second-year QB Tyler Huntley and the terrific one-two punch of Zack Moss and Armand Shyne. Speaking of good second-year signal-callers, Kevin Sumlin finds himself in a great position as a first-year head coach at Arizona by having Heisman candidate Khalil Tate to work with. The bulk of a young defense is also back in Tucson and if the new staff can help bring Tate along as a passer, that elusive trip to the Rose Bowl might not be so far out of reach for the Wildcats like it once was.

Despite all that firepower to work with and high expectations though, Sumlin won’t be the most-watched first-year coach in the division thanks to the arrival of Chip Kelly at UCLA and the ever-quotable Herm Edwards at Arizona State. The Sun Devils have a chance to surprise a bit with quarterback Manny Wilkins under center and a budding superstar in wideout N'Keal Harry, but the team has one of the most difficult schedules in the country and a huge unknown in the coaching staff. Not much is expected of the Bruins in Kelly’s first season given numerous roster issues in Westwood, but nobody is putting it past the spread offense guru to get the team to be competitive in short order. Figuring out who starts at quarterback from a number of options is task No. 1 for the powder blues, but issues abound along the offensive line, running back and on defense. Some of those same issues are present up at Colorado as well, which looks ticketed toward another down season and probably needs to make a bowl game at a minimum to save Mike MacIntyre’s job in Boulder going forward.

 PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

Pac-12 North

1. Washington
2. Stanford
3. Oregon
4. Cal
5. Washington State
6. Oregon State

Pac-12 South

1. Utah
2. Arizona
3. USC
4. Arizona State
5. UCLA
6. Colorado

IN SHORT…