Utah Utes football: This year is a different challenge

Published: Sunday, Aug. 7 2011 7:00 p.m. MDT

Kyle Whittingham and Tony Bergstrom speak at the Pac-12 Media Day. (Pac-12 Conference) Kyle Whittingham and Tony Bergstrom speak at the Pac-12 Media Day. (Pac-12 Conference)

Editor's note: Tenth in a series previewing the Pac-12 football season.

LOS ANGELES — It didn't take long for Utah coach Kyle Whittingham to field a question about how different it'll be for the original "BCS Busters" to play in the Pac-12 instead of the Mountain West Conference.

It was the first inquiry he fielded at Pac-12 Media Day.

"Week in and week out, we're fully aware we need to bring our 'A' game," Whittingham responded. "We've faired fairly well over the last 8-10 years playing against the BCS schools on a sporadic basis, but . . . playing week-in and week-out is something that we've got to be ready for."

The starting point is recruiting, he explained, and the Utes have done well over the last several years.

 (Pac-12 Conference) (Pac-12 Conference)

"You've got to have good players to compete," Whittingham said. "We think our roster is pretty solid."

So much so, that Utah is hopeful to be competitive right away. One of the team's goals is to win the South Division and play in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game.

"I'm sure the other five teams in the South are thinking the same thing," Whittingham said before noting that Utah's short term goal is to win the season opener against Montana State on Sept. 1.

Before leaving the podium, the BCS question surfaced again. This time in the form of critics acknowledging that Utah has won big bowl games, but it remains to be seen how the Utes handle a BCS conference schedule on a weekly basis.

"It is a little different ballgame playing them week-in and week-out," Whittingham said before re-emphasizing the need to be ready on a weekly basis. "But we feel excited about the opportunity we have to do that and we'll see what happens. I can't predict the future, but I know our guys have been working hard (and) they're focused."

Pac-12 play begins with what Whittingham calls a "baptism by fire" game Sept. 10 in the Coliseum against USC. The expanded league's inaugural contest is loaded with storylines and intrigue.

Whittingham and the Utes, though, are trying to keep it all in perspective. He explained that every Pac-12 game is important, particularly the ones within the division.

"Our guys have been pretty good, very good, throughout the years of keeping an even keel throughout the course of the season," Whittingham said. "Some games get termed as 'a big game' or 'this game's more important than that.' Bottom line, they all count as one and you have to be ready to play every week."

It won't be easy.

In addition to USC, Utah's conference slate features games at California (Oct. 22), Arizona (Nov. 5) and Washington State (Nov. 19). Home games include Washington (Oct. 1), Arizona State (Oct. 8), Oregon State (Oct. 29) and UCLA (Nov. 12).

Non-conference games at BYU (Sept. 17) and Pittsburgh (Oct. 15) are also expected to be challenging.

Utah Utes

2011 media poll: 3rd, South

2010 record: 10-3, 7-1 (MWC)

Head coach: Kyle Whittingham (58-20, seventh season)

2011 schedule


Sept. 10 — at USC

Sept. 17 — at BYU



Oct. 15 — at Pittsburgh

Oct. 22 — at California


Nov. 5 — at Arizona

Nov. 12 — UCLA

Nov. 19 — at Washington State

Nov. 25 — COLORADO

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