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Hatch: Predictions For Local Teams In 2024

Jan 4, 2024, 6:41 PM

Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik and Utah Jazz CEO Danny Ainge talk to journalists during an ...

Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik and Utah Jazz CEO Danny Ainge talk to journalists during an end-of-season press conference at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus (Credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

(Credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY – Each January, millions of people sit down and think about what they want to accomplish in the coming year and set goals or resolutions. In the spirit of the New Year, rather than make resolutions for the local sports teams, I figured I would make some bold predictions for what I expect to see play out in 2024.

2024 predictions for local teams

Note that all of these predictions come with the caveat that injuries, trades, and plain old bad luck could see me wearing a lot of egg on my face. We will revisit this list of prognostications in December and see how I did.

Utah Jazz

The Utah Jazz are in the weeds of a rebuilding project with team owner/governor Ryan Smith, CEO Danny Ainge, and general manager Justin Zanik endeavoring to build a title contender here in Salt Lake City. I don’t foresee the Jazz making a miraculous run to the NBA Finals this June, but rather I see the aforementioned brain trust making moves leading up to the NBA Trade Deadline to add to an already large collection of assets. I don’t think it’s done to ensure they avoid having to convey their 2024 first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder, which is protected if it falls in the top-ten picks overall.

I predict that if the recent run of form for the Jazz indicates this team has truly turned the corner under head coach Will Hardy’s guidance the Jazz would find themselves flirting with the Play-In Tournament down the stretch, and with so many questions about the strength of the talent in this year’s NBA Draft, I don’t believe they wouldn’t be heartbroken to see the pick go to OKC. We all know Danny Ainge has the assets to make a deal to get a pick in the draft if he feels the need to go get someone on draft night or at the deadline if the right guy is available.

College Basketball

The local college hoops scene boasts four strong programs currently, led by nationally-ranked BYU and I predict that the state of Utah will be represented in the NCAA Tournament by all four teams, with Utah, Utah State, and Weber State joining the Cougars in the NCAA Tournament field. It would be the first time all four have made an appearance in March Madness in the same year since 2003 and would mark just the third time ever that’s happened.

I am no bracketologist and with more than two months to go in the regular season, anything can happen, but Northern Utah has some of the best basketball teams they’ve had in recent memory and it would be not very pleasant if at least two of them didn’t advance in the Big Dance considering how strong each appears to be so far.

Utah Football

Utah will be making its grand entrance into the Big 12 Conference this summer, and despite the grumblings of some factions in the fanbase, the university will celebrate its joining the league. Before the recent run of star players entering the NFL Draft along with some key defections to the NCAA Transfer Portal, I am backing off my original prediction of Kyle Whittingham’s program being tabbed as Big 12 favorites in July.

Instead, I predict that the Utes will be tabbed among the top four in the preseason poll and will be a popular dark horse contender pick with Cam Rising back under center. I further envision the Utes enjoying a solid season, going 9-3 overall and coming just short of playing the Big 12 Championship Game, one of those losses being a notable one I will detail in just a little bit.

BYU Football

BYU learned a lot about itself in its debut season in the Big 12 Conference and set about making changes to correct the weak points of Kalani Sitake’s program. Will all of the kinks be worked out in Year 2? No, but I see BYU improving by one game and making a bowl game with a 6-6 record, a year after finishing the season 5-7 and ending the season riding a five-game losing streak.

With numerous questions surrounding the starting quarterback position, which figures to be either Jake Retzlaff or Gerry Bohanon, the Cougars will rely on Jay Hill’s improved defense and a run game that bounces back after a subpar 2023 to grind out the necessary wins to see themselves return to the postseason.

Utah State Football

Blake Anderson’s team endured a topsy-turvy 2023 campaign that culminated in a blowout loss to Georgia State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The lessons learned from last year will power them into an improved 2024 season. The Aggies have stiff competition in the form of three Power Five opponents in Utah, USC, and Washington State, the latter two being road contests which are always tricky.

I predict the Aggies’ floor will be 7-5 with my expectation that they finish 8-4 overall, but I will predict they come away with a major upset over Utah at Maverik Stadium in the resumption of the Battle of the Brothers rivalry. There’s something about rivalry games that brings the best out of teams and the Aggies will trip up the Utes.

Real Salt Lake

Real Salt Lake went about revamping their front office and coaching staff in the offseason after coming oh-so-close to beating the Houston Dynamo and advancing in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Expectations for the team will be high considering the amount of investment David Blitzer and Ryan Smith made during the 2023 season and head coach Pablo Mastroeni will be expected to finish in the top-four of the Western Conference.

I predict Chicho Arango and company to be much more potent in front of goal and that RSL will make a run in the MLS Cup Playoffs, ultimately falling just short of their third MLS Championship appearance with a loss in the Western Conference Final. I would also expect more wheeling and dealing from Blitz and Smith in the transfer market as well, but probably not to the record-breaking level of spending they did this past year.

Utah Royals FC

First, let me issue a hearty welcome back to the Utah Royals. Having NWSL soccer to complement Real Salt Lake and the Real Monarchs in the professional soccer sphere locally will be great. Being an expansion franchise, I predict the Royals getting off to a slow start in their 2024 campaign, but as the season wears on I believe new head coach Amy Rodriguez will get her players all on the same page and the Royals will look much different when the season ends than what they look like out of the gate, but I think they come up short of making the playoffs in their debut season.

Other Sports

Many are hoping for a formal announcement of either a National Hockey League (NHL) or Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise coming to Utah. I predict that we will not get an official announcement of either in 2024, but there will be plenty of reports about the continued interest from both leagues in coming to Utah, fueling the dreams of baseball and hockey fans here in the Beehive State.

I think that the Utah Archers will make a positive impression in their first season calling Utah home in the PLL and will begin building a fanbase here. In rugby, Utah Warriors will once again be the gritty ruggers their fanbase has come to love, but they will make it into the Major League Rugby playoffs after narrowly missing out on making the six-team field in 2023 despite finishing with the fourth-most points.

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Hatch: Predictions For Local Teams In 2024