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Utah Football Spring Practice Preview: Another New Coordinator

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Begins: March 20

Spring game: April 21

The second weekend of the NCAA men's basketball tournament is on the horizon, but I'm assuming -- since this is a Pac-12 blog after all -- everyone is itching to move on from college basketball-related topics. Right? Right.

Accordingly, spring football is here. And by spring football, I'm referring to Utah, which is scheduled to begin the first of 15 workouts this afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

If you're searching for a team that can dethrone USC's suddenly inevitable Pac-12 South title, this is probably it. The Utes finished 2011 with wins in five of their last six games, including a three-point overtime win over Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Not to mention 16 starters are back on offense and defense, too.

But remember, 2011 was Utah's first season in a BCS conference, which brought its own set of questions. And after all, in spite of its strong finish, it did open Pac-12 play with four straight losses. So nothing is exactly a guarantee as the fall nears.

The roster experience is there, though, which should eventually make the Utes serious contenders in the South -- one year removed from nearly taking USC to overtime at the Coliseum in early September. Remember, they do get the Trojans in Salt Lake City this year.

When things get rolling, headlining Utah's offensive attack this season will likely be running back John White IV (pictured), who totaled 1,519 yards on the ground to break a 29-year-old single-season school rushing mark in his first season with the program after transferring from L.A. Harbor College. White, who led the conference in carries, took a lot of the pressure off the team's quarterback situation, which never fully got sorted out.

Quarterback Jordan Wynn began the season as the starter under new offensive coordinator Norm Chow, but he injured his non-throwing shoulder in the team's fourth game against Washington, had surgery and never played again. Jon Hays filled in his place, but didn't exactly throw the ball much, averaging just over 10 passes per game.

Hays is back, too, but if Wynn is healthy, he should start, as new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson has reiterated this winter. The 25-year-old Johnson also has become the youngest offensive coordinator in the country -- hired on Feb. 2 -- and as recently as 2009, led the Utes to a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. Youth movement!

Because of Johnson and Wynn, much of the talk, naturally, has centered on how the offense will look this spring, but if anything, the defense should be just as entertaining. Arguably the biggest reason for Utah's recent run of success has been its defense line and that shouldn't change much with the the return of Star Lotulelei, who won the Morris Trophy last season as the Pac-12's best defensive lineman. Remember, Kyle Whittingham's bunch surrendered just 20.2 points per game a season ago -- 19th best nationally.

If they can get Wynn settled back and comfortable under center -- he says he's now 100 percent following the injury -- Utah should have more than a chance in the South.

Follow Joey on Twitter @joeyrkaufman