Top 25 Countdown
No. 20 Utah
• Last Season: 13-0 (defeated Alabama in the Sugar Bowl).
• Returning Starters: 11 (4 offense, 7 defense).
• Key Game: at Texas Christian, Nov. 14
Why They're Worth Watching
No one is sleeping on Utah this season after the Utes finished 2008 as the nation's lone undefeated team. Coach Kyle Whittingham has established himself as one of the nation's top coaches even though Utah is not in a BCS conference. Running back Matt Asiata returns following a 12-touchdown campaign in 2008, even though he shared carries. He will run behind an experienced line. Utah also brings back much of its 11th-ranked defense from last season, including defensive ends Derrick Shelby and Koa Misi and linebackers Stevenson Sylvester and Mike Wright. The defense will likely start eight seniors.
Player to Watch
Stevenson Sylvester, Sr., LB
A national television audience witnessed Sylvester's playmaking ability during the Sugar Bowl, when he recorded seven tackles, three sacks and a fumble recovery. He has started almost his entire career with the Utes, progressing from a 190-pound freshman to a 230-pound senior.
Why They're Vulnerable
The Utes lost key components from last year's team, including star quarterback Brian Johnson and both coordinators. Junior Corbin Louks will likely take over for Johnson, although junior college transfer Terrance Cain and freshman Jordan Wynn also are in the mix. Whoever wins the job will throw to three new starting wide receivers, although Whittingham has expressed optimism in the group. Two key defensive players left early for the NFL draft, striking a blow to a unit that featured only one senior in 2008. Louie Sakoda, who handled both kickoffs and punts, is gone. The schedule is more difficult this season, including road games at Oregon, Texas Christian and BYU.
-- Zach Berman