Utah football has a big year ahead of them in 2024. The Utes are now members of the Big 12 conference, and will be traveling far and wide to play games. The Utes had success as members of the Pac-12 Conference, and there is a reason to believe they will also be just as good in their new league. Here's one player in particular who should help Utah football compete in 2024.

Dangerous Utah football weapon

The Utes have a versatile weapon in Tao Johnson. Johnson played multiple sports in high school, and multiple positions in football. He has settled into the role of free safety/cornerback with the Utes, but also can play wide receiver from his high school days. Johnson is set to have a breakout season in 2024, as a key piece of the Utes' secondary.

During his first year of college football in 2023, Johnson played a significant role in the Utah defensive backfield. He finished the year with 33 tackles, including 16 solo stops. He also had a fumble recovery and got credited for five passes defended. Johnson played in all 13 games for Utah, and started 12 of them. He recorded tackles in almost all of his games played. He had his best performance in a November game on the road at ranked Arizona. In that contest, Johnson finished with a total of 5 tackles. He also recorded four solo stops in a game against then 8th ranked Oregon, one of the toughest games on the Utes' schedule.

Johnson seemed to rise to the challenge every time a ranked team was on the Utah schedule. His fumble recovery was in a game against ranked UCLA. His best individual performances were all against ranked opponents. He showed no fear on the field, in his first season out of high school. He played like a veteran for a Utah football team that finished 8-5 in their last year as a Pac-12 member.

The young defensive back will get plenty of chances to have an even better year in 2024. He can play cornerback, safety or nickel, which gives him just an incredible amount of versatility. As just a sophomore, it wouldn't be surprising to see Johnson lead the secondary in tackles. He also is searching for his first career interception, so opposing quarterbacks will have to watch out.

Johnson played his high school football in Idaho. He was a four star recruit, per 247 Sports, in the 2022 recruiting class. He chose Utah over a number of other power 5 offers, including Virginia and Washington State.

Utah's season outlook for 2024

Oregon coach Dan Lanning, left, and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham meet at midfield before the game at Autzen Stadium.
© Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard / USA TODAY NETWORK

Utah has a tough docket of conference games for their first Big 12 season. The team must play Baylor in their first conference matchup, but then also has to play Oklahoma State, Iowa State and rival BYU later on. The Utes start off the season with a non conference game against Southern Utah on August 29.

Johnson will get plenty of chances to make his mark in the Big 12 this season. The Utes are used to playing tough competition, and nothing should change in this new league. The Big 12 is known for their strong passing offenses, so Johnson should get plenty of opportunities to earn stats. Utah is looking to improve on their 2023 campaign. While the team won eight games, the Utes lost their bowl game to Northwestern.

Utah football fans are certainly very excited to see their young defensive back develop. It's an exciting time to be a fan of the Utes, as their journey begins in the new conference.