Culver City, Calif. • Players often talk about how long offseasons feel. But for the Utah Utes, the time between their final game of the 2012 season and the start of fall camp has been not only an exceptionally long drought but a miserable one, too.
“It stinks,” Utah defensive end Trevor Reilly said. “No one likes to be known as a loser.”
The Utes, who were picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South by media members, feel they can be the surprise team of the league.
After two losing seasons in conference play, they have done all they can to make sure they can live up to their own expectations, not live down to others’.
“We’ve always focused on our offseason workouts, but this year we had a chip on our shoulders and morning runs,” tight end Jake Murphy said. “It was a rough offseason for sure.”
The Utes, who start camp Aug. 5, believe the key to a successful season is consistency at quarterback.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham noted the Utes haven’t started and finished with the same quarterback since the undefeated 2008 campaign when Brian Johnson anchored the position.
“We haven’t had continuity since then and that has to change, has got to happen,” he said. “The quarterback play is so important, it can’t be understated how big it is.”
While there was talk that sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson was being pushed by Adam Schulz and newcomer Brandon Cox in spring ball, Whittingham was firm Friday that Wilson is the starter.
“He is the incumbent,” Whittingham said. “No position is ever guaranteed, but it is his job to lose. He just has to produce.”
Wilson went 3-4 as a starter after Jordan Wynn was forced to retire due to injuries.
But his youth wasn’t the only reason Utah’s offense struggled. Inconsistent play from the receivers and a green coordinator in Johnson didn’t help matters.
The addition of Dennis Erickson, a strong recruiting class and the experience that Wilson earned under fire make the Utes feel they have the elements in place for a better year in 2013.
The Utes have a decidedly more difficult schedule with Stanford and Oregon replacing Cal and Washington, but they are ready for the challenges, according to Reilly.
Two years of adjustments, two years of painful losses is enough to endure, he said.
“We’re going in like we should win every game,” he said. “That may not happen, but it’s something we are going to try to do.”
Despite their confidence, the Utes acknowledge they have a lot of work to do before their season opener against Utah State on Aug. 29.
Continuing to tweak the offense to Erickson’s liking is high on the agenda, as is beefing of the defense, specifically at the corner position.
Justin Thomas, Davion Orphey and Keith McGill are the leading candidates for starting roles, but Whittingham said there needs to be more separation between the would-be starters and backups.
Whittingham said the team is “ramped up” to start fall camp. His words symbolized Utah’s mentality heading into the season too.
“We’ve had two years to adjust to the league and two good recruiting classes,” he said. “Not making it to a bowl game was very foreign to us, and we don’t want that to happen again.”
Pac-12 media day poll
1. Oregon (15) 145
2. Stanford (11) 139
3. Oregon State 95
4. Washington 84
5. California 47
6. Washington State 33
1. UCLA (12) 135
2. Arizona State (10) 130
3. USC (4) 117
4. Arizona 76
5. Utah 60
6. Colorado 28
Pac-12 title game champion • Oregon (14 votes)
Others receiving votes • Stanford (8), UCLA (3)