Let’s face it, it is hard to know everything about all 128 FBS teams.
No matter how much television you watch on a typical college football Saturday, you’re likely going to miss out on some games you would have liked to have seen based on sheer .
Last season, some folks may have missed out on a much improved Utah team.
The Utes won nine games and went 5-4 in Pac-12 play, but due to the level of competition in the Pac-12 South, many may have failed to notice due to their 5th place finish in the division standings. It was the first time Utah has finished with a winning record in conference play since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.
As the Utes entering the 2015 season, which starts on Thursday when they host Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines, here are five players to keep an eye on:
RB Devontae Booker
If there’s one name you save in your brain for casual Utah football conversation with friends, make sure it is this one.
After transferring from American River College to Utah prior to the 2014 season, the running back exploded onto the Pac-12 scene.
Though he was used sparingly in the Utes first three games of the year, Booker managed to top 1,500 yards rushing last season, earning first team All-Pac-12 honors.
He averaged 130.1 rushing yards per game against Pac-12 opponents, proving he was up for the task when it mattered most.
If the Utes are going to make some noise in the Pac-12 South this season, expected them to do so by again riding on the back of Booker during his senior season.
DT Lowell Lotulelei
Remember former Utah All-American defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who went on to be the 14th overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft?
This is his younger brother.
Lowell was named a first-team freshman All-American by USA Today, and his 33 tackles, four sacks and forced fumble from the defensive tackle spot were enough to garner honorable mention on the 2014 All-Pac-12 team.
“Lowell’s always been a better football player than I have,” Star Lotulelei told The Salt Lake Tribune during the off-season, “ever since he started playing the game when he was a little kid. It all comes natural to him.”
If what big brother says is true, Lowell could be a national name by the end of this season.
DE Hunter Dimick
Video note: While they’re not all specific highlights of Dimick (No. 49), pay attention to the way he attacks plays–he’s impacting them in some shape or form, even if he’s not getting the sack.
When it comes to rushing the quarterback, this guy can flat out get it done.
With 10 sacks in 11 games played last season, Dimick ranked ninth in the nation in sacks per game during his sophomore season.
“He puts his mine hat on and goes down the elevator to the mine every day,” Utah defensive coordinator John Pease said, according to Deseret News. “It doesn’t matter to him.”
The Pac-12 has no shortage of quality quaterbacks that Utes will surely look to pressure, so the Utah-native is set up for a potentially huge junior season.
LB Jared Norris
This fifth year senior should be the heart and soul of the Utah defense.
Norris accumulated a team-best 116 tackles last season and registered 13 tackles for loss. He has 30 games played and 20 starts under his belt, and is again expected to start as one of the Utes’ key tacklers from the linebacker spot this season.
The Utes led the nation with 55 sacks last season, and although last year’s leader is gone (Nate Orchard, 18.5 sacks), Norris thinks this year’s version of the Utah defense has the chance to be even better.
“Our standards are extremely high,” Norris told The Associated Press. “We were a good defense last year and we expect to be a better defense this year.”
P Tom Hackett
Yes, that’s right. I’ve put a punter on a list of five football players to watch.
Hackett isn’t just your run of the mill punter. He’s the reigning Ray Guy Award winner, which honors the nation’s top punter each season.
He was the first player in Utah and Pac-12 history to win the award, averaging a staggering 46.7 yards on 80 punts in 2014.
A punter with the booming leg and pinpoint accuracy that Hackett has can actually be quite a useful weapon in the battle for field position.
Expect the Utes to be on the better end of that type of battle more times than not thanks to Hackett’s presence this season.