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Utah football: Utes angling for the Pac-12 marquee

Published July 24, 2014 11:17 am

Utah is picked to finish 5th in South, but players say they're aiming for bigger things.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Los Angeles • He fielded a few questions about Travis Wilson. One about KISS. Nobody even mentioned Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson.

But on his fourth Pac-12 Media Day, most reporters wanted Kyle Whittingham to address just how much his once-perennial bowl team has been affected — for good and bad — by its membership in the Pac-12.

His answer was no surprise.

A lot.

Utah is better than they were when they entered the Pac-12, Whittingham said. He would like his chances in the Mountain West, he said, careful to add that he was very grateful for his time in the old conference. His Utes are closing in on where they now need to be.

But "nobody cares about being close," he said. "You've got to get over that hump."

Until they do, the Utes are destined to be something less than the marquee attraction in Los Angeles.

Forty or more media members surrounded Oregon's Mark Helfrich and USC's Steve Sarkisian, but the Utes are no longer so shiny and so new, and many reporters mingled or typed up other stories while Whittingham and his two student-athlete representatives graced the three stages in the Paramount Theater lobby.

But they seemed to enjoy themselves. Before less of a "throng" than a "gathering," Whittingham talked to a local reporter about walk-on offensive lineman Nick Nowakowski and discussed meeting KISS backstage.

When defensive end Nate Orchard found himself alone, he wandered over to play reporter with wide receiver Dres Anderson.

Orchard joked about playing offense, saying he'd pay off Whittingham with his wife's cookies. Two TV outlet staffers chatted about what a joy it had been to talk with the effervescent Anderson, while in the tent next to them, Anderson told the interviewer that he knew what he was going to be asked about: bowl games, and Travis Wilson.

The cameras started rolling and Anderson was asked what his top priority was this season.

"Bowl game!"

At the start of the day it was announced that Utah was picked in a Pac-12 media poll to finish fifth in the South, ahead of only Colorado. Whittingham said that was about what he expected.

Asked if he can feel the pain of Colorado's Mike MacIntyre, and later if he has spoken to TCU's Gary Patterson after similar growing pains in the Big 12, Whittingham acknowledged that it's been difficult.

"Everybody had high aspirations," he said. "But we certainly are a better team this year. The issue is, how much better?" —

More from Kyle Whttingham in Los Angeles

• Contrary to earlier reports, Whittingham met with Harvey Langi last Tuesday, as scheduled. He said the Bingham product's status is still to be determined after he announced his intent to transfer to BYU following his LDS Church mission. "Bottom line, whatever he feels is best for him, we wish him all the best," Whittingham said. "We're hoping obviously that he plays in Utah, but whatever he openly decides, we'll wish him well."

• The Utes will have a team meeting August 3 to discuss which version of the "Utah Man" lyrics they'll sing to the MUSS after games.

• Whittingham was asked about a photo of him with Fred Whittingham and the rock band KISS. Whittingham said he was hooked up with the tickets by a friend, and that when he asked Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons to throw up a "U" hand sign, Stanley said, "You talkin' about the Utes?"

• On the college football playoff system, Whittingham said he thinks the four-team format will be short-lived. Why? It'll be "too well-received to not expand on it," he said. If it expands to eight or 16 teams, he said, players will be "excited" about playing more games.

• Whittingham said he wasn't going to comment on whether the Pac-12 should play eight or nine conference games, but said that all conferences should play the same amount of conference games to even things up.

• Teaming with a Pac-12 Network host, Whittingham beat Orchard and Anderson 7-2 in cornhole, a beanbag game. —

Pac-12 media poll

First-place votes in parentheses.

North Division

1. Oregon (37)

2. Stanford (2)

3. Washington

4. Oregon State

5. Washington State

6. California

South Division

1. UCLA (37)

2. USC (1)

3. Arizona State (1)

4. Arizona

5. Utah

6. Colorado

Pac-12 title game champion • Oregon (24 of 39 votes). UCLA 13, Stanford and USC with one.