Things are not what they once were in college football in the state of Utah. About a decade ago, all anyone could talk about was how good BYU was and that they would win a conference title.
Now it seems that all the attention has shifted north towards Utah and Utah State — two programs who were once speed bumps along Interstate 15 for the Cougars. My, how times have changed.
And now, the two schools up north are not only on a collision course set to be televised on ESPN2 in less than two months — they’re picked near the top of their respective conferences in preseason polls.
The Utes are now in the lap of luxury in the Pac-12 Conference, enjoying Media Day at Universal Studios in Hollywood.
And the media have paid attention to Utah’s first season in the Pac-12 and its victory over Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl by selecting the Utes second in the South Division, just below mighty USC.
Naturally Kyle Whittingham, the Utes’ coach, said nothing at Media Day about being selected second in a somewhat meaningless preseason poll.
But what will change is Utes’ fans perception of a team that admittedly struggled on offense last year under then-offensive coordinator Norm Chow — now under the guise of former Ute star and current offensive coordinator Brian Johnson.
The Utes will install more of a spread look on offense, retreating somewhat from last year’s pro-style formation. What that should do, is focus more on Utah’s skill positions and less on the arm of Jordan Wynn, a player who has spent a good majority of his career injured.
By spreading out their offense, so to speak, Utah should also be able to take pressure off running back John White, who averaged almost 30 carries last year for a team that seemed overloaded at times in the run game.
On defense, the Utes are solid as usual, boasting future NFL draft pick and All-America candidate Star Lotuleilei, along with cornerback Brian Blechen. Admittedly, Whittingham is quick to point out that linebacker is a problem area — but was also eager to say it’s a position that is deep, though young.
Having the Utes in the Pac-12 has probably done more for hate relations with the BYU Cougars than anything since the Utes were the Cougars annual whipping post — but those days are over.
The Aggies are staying a few hundred miles up the road from where the Utes are — but Las Vegas is a nicer place than Logan, thank you very much.
Western Athletic Conference coaches and media also selected the Aggies second, just a notch below Louisiana Tech.
Though Utah State figures to have less of a road to greatness than say, Utah, and for good reason since the WAC doesn’t feature a preseason national No. 1 in USC, the Aggies are in the hunt despite losing its best player, NFL-bound running back Robert Turbin.
“It’s great to be respected by your peers in the league and I have a lot of respect for every coach in this conference,” said fourth-year USU head coach Gary Andersen. “However, we don’t put much stock into preseason polls; they don’t get you rings and they don’t get you to bowl games.”
Utah State comes off a successful 2011 in which the Aggies went to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Like the Utes, the coaches and media have recognized Utah State’s great season and it could be a great one considering Utah comes to Logan on Sept. 7.
Even if Andersen — a former Ute coach — refuses to recognize any game beyond the one coming up (that would be Southern Utah on Aug. 30) you can guarantee Utah State has thought long and hard about Utah.
Like the Utes, the Aggies are loaded, hence the glowing preseason review. Quarterback is a two-man race between sophomore Chuckie Keeton and senior Adam Kennedy, and the rest of the offense is loaded at every skill position.
Defense is also a positive, with seniors returning at nearly every spot — even with the departure of a few linebackers due to graduation.
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