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O’Connell: Utah College Football Preseason All-State Team – Offense

(Wade Denniston, USU Athletic Media Relations)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – We are just over a month away from the beginning of what promises to be a very interesting football season for the state of Utah.

The Utes are projected to do big things in the Pac-12, BYU is showing signs of a return to bygone glory days, and the Aggies are running it back with Gary Andersen at the helm.

SUU is reloading, but Weber State has their eyes on another Big Sky title and FCS playoff run.

With everyone else putting out there preseason watch-lists, I decided we need a good ole fashioned All-State Team, made up of the best players from our great state’s football universities. Here’s how I see it playing out in the 2019 campaign:

QB – Jordan Love, USU – He is the most consistent QB in the state of Utah right now, and should have been named one of SI’s top 100 players in the nation.

RB – Zach Moss, Utah– Either the original Doak Walker Award watch list-makers didn’t watch game film, or Utah is deliberately angling for their top players to be snubbed from preseason “awards” to help cultivate the traditional “chip-on-his-shoulder” mentality that might otherwise be hard to come by in a year with so much hype heading into the season. Moss is a punishing runner with excellent vision. He could have entered the draft last season, even with the knee injury, but elected to come back. Moss wants to prove that he is a top talent in the country and solidify his spot as the top Utah RB in program history.

RB – Gerold Bright, USU – 6.3 yds per carry and 10 TD’s is just too good to ignore. Bright’s ability will create opportunities for Jordan Love in the passing game. USU’s receivers are gonna need some help this season, and Bright will do his part by drawing defenders down into the box.

NOTE: I was tempted to give Weber State’s Josh Davis some well-deserved love here, but Bright did it against FBS competition, and Davis has 3 more years to pad his stats.

WR – Britain Covey, Utah – It’s not being talked about enough how important a fully healthy Covey will be to Utah’s success this season. The Ludwig offense will have a legitimate game breaker IF this undersized dynamo comes back with the same quicks he had pre-knee surgery.

WR – Samson Nacua, Utah – Any assortment of names could rise to claim this spot. It’s easy to make a case for Talon Shumway, Brian Thompson, Solomon Enis and even Neil Pau’u (if not for the issues that I genuinely hope he gets handled). And while I hesitate to put a second Utah WR in this place because the corps has notoriously under-delivered on its promise in recent years.  Samson Nacua might not even be the best receiver in his own family, but he has the tools to be a big weapon for Tyler Huntley. Even though he is less proven than some of the other guys on the list. I am going with Nacua here.

TE – Matt Bushman, BYU – It’s actually a big year for the Tight End position in the state of Utah. Lots of rising talent, but the best bet in this All-State offense is Bushman. He is exactly what a TE needs to be, especially for a young QB carrying the pressure of rising expectations. Well-rounded, big, and consistent. If Wilson is going to be the QB everybody hopes he is, Bushman is key.

OL – The best O-Line coaches in the country worry less about position-specifics and more about putting the best five blockers on the field. I don’t want to ruffle any big-man feathers by diminishing the technical skill necessary to be truly effective in the offensive trenches, but all of the guys I am about to name are talented and hard-working enough to be versatile. So put them where you want, but these are the five.

James Empey, BYU – I imagine Empey’s blood is Cougar blue (royal – not Aggie blue). Whatever color it is, it’s certainly encoded with high-level O-line play. The former American Fork Caveman has just the right amount of Neanderthal in his game to make him a problem for opposing DL. He’ll be tested by elite competition early and often this season, but Empey is the Cougar most likely to play his way onto draft boards by holding his own against some of the country’s best DL talent.

Brady Christensen, BYU – He was woefully under-recruited, and it shows in how he plays. Something to prove on every single down. If he can stay healthy, I expect a massive jump from last-season’s Freshman All-American performance.

Tristen Hoge, BYU – Yep, I’m doing it, I’m putting a THIRD BYU offensive lineman on this preseason All-State team. If you are a Ute or Aggie fan and it’s driving you crazy, just think of Tristen Hoge not as a BYU guy, but a Notre Dame guy, because that’s where he started his college career. In fact, if BYU had gotten a commitment from Hoge straight out of high school in Pocatello, he’d be heralded as the biggest OL recruiting win the Cougars have had in the modern era. Everybody wanted him. This guy played on the same Notre Dame offensive line as eventual first-round picks Quentin Nelson and Mike McGlinchey before making his way to BYU. He has NFL potential, and it’s time for him to step up and serve as an experienced anchor for this BYU unit.

Darrin Paulo, Utah – I remember seeing his first practice at Utah and thinking “there is no way that kid is a freshman.”  Paulo has as much physical potential as anybody we’ve ever seen come through the O-Block, and last year he finally started to put it all together. Now that the O-Line room is getting crowded with talent behind him, expect Paulo to elevate his game to stay at the front of the pack.

Orlando Umana, Utah – Physical, versatile, and just the right mix of natural athleticism and gritty nastiness that seems to be a hallmark of the Grant High School kids out of Sacramento that Utah has found success with. Umana is a darkhorse all-conference candidate, and a sure thing for me as one of the best five OL in the state.

Kickers are an offensive weapon, so I’ll include one on the offensive All-State team. It feels strange not to automatically pencil in whoever is kicking the pigskin for the Utes, but this year, there are too many questions for special teams on the Hill. So…

Dominik Eberle, USU – He was good from long distance a year ago, which may be important with the Aggies uncertainty along the offensive line causing problems in finishing drives this season.

Who did I leave out?  Let me know @realocsports on Twitter.