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Utah expert previews opener against Arizona, makes a game prediction

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utah-utes-arizona-wildcats-q&a-blocku-preview-analysis-expectations-college-football-2020-pac12 Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats finally get back to playing actual games, opening the 2020 season on Saturday against the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City.

It’s been nearly a year since Arizona last played a game, and no Pac-12 school has been in action since New Year’s Day. A lot has happened since then, so to help us understand what the UA is facing in Utah—the two-time defending Pac-12 South Division champs—we asked Shane Roberts from sister site Block U to give us some insight on the Utes.

Here’s his descriptive answers to our bland questions.

Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin said Utah’s defense is its identity. How does that unit look heading into this game, and how does that compare to a year ago?

“It’s a whole new unit on the defensive side of the ball. The Utes are replacing nine starters on that side, and most of them are now playing in the NFL. With that said, it’s a very talented group, but they’re very young, there will be a lot of freshmen that will be seeing the field for the first time against Arizona. The defensive line should be good, but the anchor will likely be linebacker Devin Lloyd. He’s an all-conference type of player and will have a major impact this year. It’s been acknowledged that the defense will have some growing pains this season, with the influx of youth, so this will be a unique Utah team, with the offense leading the way.”

There will be a new quarterback running the offense, presumably South Carolina grad transfer Jake Bentley. What does he bring to the table, and might we see more than one passer?

“Well, I think a lot of people think Bentley will be the starter, but a lot of rumors are that the youngster Cameron Rising, a Texas transfer, will be the guy. If it is Bentley, I think you’ll see a very steady quarterback, who has a ton of experience coming from South Carolina. He was good for the Gamecocks, and I’d expect him to fit into the offense nicely, especially with so much skill around him. If it’s Rising, I think you’ll see an offense more similar to what the Utes were under Tyler Huntley. Rising has some running ability to keep the chains moving, and to extend the play.”

Losing Zack Moss means there’s as huge void to fill in the run game. Who is best equipped to carry the load?

“It will probably be running back by committee with a group of talented guys. You’ll see Devin Brumfield and Jordan Wilmore as the two primary guys, but you’ll likely see freshman Ty Jordan as well. I think the run game won’t see too much of a dip, because of the collection of talent with the returning offensive line.

Utah tends to have really solid special teams, though across college football so far this season that area has been rife with miscues. Are the Utes in good hands there?

“I think solid is a good term. Utah is usually spectacular in special teams, last year was a bit of a blip, but Utah didn’t need a lot of special teams plays last year because they were so good on offense. Ben Lennon is a good punter, and we’re hoping to see him take a step forward this year. The kicking spot is up for grabs, but it was reliable last year, after the opener.”

Prediction time. Does Utah win a fifth straight over Arizona or can the Wildcats pull off the upset?

“In a pandemic, with no MUSS (Mighty Utah Student Section) and no real home field advantage, I have a hard time really feeling out how this game, and ‘season’ will play out. I think Utah’s offense is good enough to put up plenty of yards and points while Utah’s defense gets its sea legs. Ultimately I think Utah is much more talented and stable than Arizona, and Utah will walk away with the win.”