The University of Utah has its highest-ever preseason ranking.
The Utes, 10-4 overall and Pac-12 champions for the first time last season, were slotted at No. 8 in the preseason AFCA Coaches Poll, released on Monday morning.
The No. 8 preseason ranking eclipses the program’s previous preseason high in either major poll, No. 14 in the AP Top 25 ahead of the 2019 season. That team peaked in early December of that season, getting to No. 5 in the AP and Coaches Polls, plus the College Football Playoff rankings.
Last season’s Rose Bowl qualifier began the season unranked in the Coaches Poll, but wound up finishing 12th, its highest finish in that poll since the vaunted 13-0 2008 team finished fourth.
Kyle Whittingham’s program was joined Monday in the poll by fellow-Pac-12 programs Oregon (No. 12) and USC (No. 15).
“You have to just embrace them,” Whittingham said of managing expectations on Monday afternoon following Utah’s fifth fall camp practice. “They are there and there’s no hiding from them, so we will meet them head on. We have to understand we’re getting a lot of national attention and we have to be mature enough to handle that, go about our business the right way and not think we have all the answers, that we’ve arrived.”
Utah, which has a high-profile opener on Sept. 3 at the University of Florida, was installed as the favorite to win the Pac-12 via the league’s preseason poll, which was voted on by 33 media members.
BYU also received votes in the initial poll, coming in as the fourth team out behind Iowa, Penn State and Tennessee.
The Cougars’ opening month of the season will be littered with top 25 opponents. Baylor, BYU’s home opener, came in at No. 10. And previously mentioned Oregon will host BYU the next week.
In the initial poll, four of BYU’s 12 opponents are in the top 25. Notre Dame is ranked No. 5 and Arkansas registered at No. 23. Two other opponents — Utah State and Boise State — received votes.
Also of note, two of the four teams joining the Big 12 next season were ranked. Cincinnati (No. 22) and Houston (No. 25) paced the group. UCF also received 55 votes, compared with BYU’s 152.
The preseason AP Top 25 will be released on Aug. 15.