When asked what characteristic all three Utah teams shared, Ute assistant Morgan Scalley said "leadership."
Scalley was one of the leaders of the 2004 team and has been a coach for the other two Ute teams.
"Players taking ownership is the biggest similarities in all three teams," he said. "You need senior leadership that holds people accountable with guys that buy into the process. Obviously you have to have talent and you have to have depth, but you also need leadership."
This year's team has senior leaders such as Zane Taylor, Matt Asiata, Eddie Wide, Caleb Schlauderaff, Christian Cox, Chad Manis, Justin Taplin-Ross and Lamar Chapman.
Most athletic teams aren't successful without good team chemistry. How many teams with several "stars" fail to win titles, while teams with lesser talent, but good chemistry — such as this year's World Series champion San Francisco Giants — win it all?
All year long, Ute players and coaches have talked about the team's unity, but Whittingham says this team is special.
"Each (of the unbeaten teams) had good team chemistry, but this year's team might be the best," he said.
Both the 2004 and 2008 teams had several future NFL stars.
Of course, Alex Smith was the No. 1 draft choice after the 2004 season, and several others went on to play in the NFL, including defensive linemen Sione Pouha and Jonathan Fanene, offensive lineman Chris Kemoeatu, safety Eric Weddle and receivers Paris Warren and John Madsen.
The 2008 squad featured future NFLers Paul Kruger, Sean Smith, Brice McCain, Stevenson Sylvester, Robert Johnson and Koa Misi off the defense as well as receiver Freddie Brown and offensive lineman Zane Beadles.
It remains to be seen how many players from this year's team will end up in the NFL, but the Utes don't seem to have as many sure-fire stars, at least among the upperclassmen.
As Whittingham puts it, "We have a lot of players who are unselfish. They're a real a blue collar, lunch-pail group."
Brian Johnson, who quarterbacked the '08 team, was the backup QB in '04 and is now Utah's quarterbacks coach, prefers not to compare the three teams and won't say which one was the best.
"What you don't want to do is sell this team short of what they're doing," he said. "The '08 team is different than '04, and this team is different, and I think you do a disservice to this team by trying to compare. This a great group that knows when to have fun, when to lock it down, and they're sold on coach Whittingham and the process of what we do."
As for Whittingham, he just says, "There's too much football left to say this team is better than another one."
We'll find out a lot about just how good the 2010 team is come Saturday afternoon.
No. 4 TCU (9-0, 5-0 MWC) vs. No. 6 Utah (8-0, 5-0)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV: CBS C
Radio: 700 AMPoll question
Which Utah team is/was the best?
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