Leading up to the college football season, national media everywhere are analyzing every aspect of every team in every conference, predicting 2013's winners and losers. Through relentless analysis, opinion, commentary and prognostication, they largely succeed in building the hopes of many fans and destroying those of others.
Suffice it to say, there haven't been a host of pundits that high on the Utes this preseason.
Sample one: Phil Steele has made it plain that he thinks the Utes likely aren't headed back to a bowl game in 2013. For ESPN, Steele wrote that just getting back to last year's disappointing five wins will be difficult.
"Currently, I have the Utes rated as an underdog in nine of their 12 games this year, and while I respect the job Kyle Whittingham has done, with only 12 returning starters, the Utes will find it difficult even matching last year's five wins."
Sample two: USA Today's Paul Myerberg also isn't very high on the Utes. Although he sees a climb back to contention in the Pac-12 South is on the horizon, he predicts that 2013 is not the year for marquee success.
"With some impressive-if-unproven talent on both offense and defense, it may just be a matter of time and careful tutoring before Utah returns to the eight-win plateau. That won't happen in 2013, if only due to an extremely difficult schedule. This team won't win more than four games in Pac-12 play — and will therefore go either 6-6 or 7-5, depending on how it fares against the (Utah State) Aggies and (BYU) Cougars."
Sample three: National college football awards preseason watch lists all but omitted the Utes. Save for Jake Murphy — a fantastic tight end and arguably the best receiver in the state of Utah — and Trevor Reilly — a very solid player poised for a breakout year at linebacker and defensive end — not a single Ute was named a candidate for a national college football award.
College football fans nationwide haven't been too high on the Utes so far either. Steele released the preliminary results of a fan poll in which he asked his readers to predict the winners of every 2013 conference game for the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and Pac-12.
According to voters, Utah is second to last in the Pac-12 South, ahead only of Colorado. Not a single voter picked Utah to beat Oregon or Stanford.
Lest the Utah faithful become depressed, may I remind everyone that the national media is by no means perfect.
How many pundits picked the Utes to win in the Fiesta or Sugar Bowls at the beginning of the 2004 and 2008 seasons? Heck, how many pundits picked them to get there in the first place?
Predicting a team to win out and then watching that team go up in flames has arguably become a national tradition in college football. Every year a flood of articles rains from all over the media landscape, mapping out what will certainly come to pass in the upcoming season. Of course, the available data and past performance dictate that it must.
Tell that to the 2012 USC Trojans, the 2011 Oklahoma Sooners or the 2010 Boise State Broncos. All three were picked during the preseason to be huge successes, likely participants in BCS bowls and undisputed champions of their leagues. Matt Barkley couldn't stay healthy in 2012, and the Trojans lost to UCLA for the first time in what seemed like ages. Oklahoma crashed and burned at home, the nation's longest home winning streak ending in the process, victims of a Texas Tech red raid in 2011. The 2010 Boise State team? Two kicks completely derailed that season for the Broncos and possibly cost Kyle Brotzman a career as an NFL kicker. Boise State split the conference title three ways and punched its ticket to the Vegas Bowl.
Tell that to Barry Switzer. Most Utah fans remember how high he was on Alabama prior to the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Five minutes into the game, it was clear that he had prepared for the game by gulping Crimson Tide brand Kool-Aid by the gallon.
None of this, however, makes the impending season any easier.
Absolutely what the Utes have on the doorstep is the biggest challenge the school's football team has ever faced over the course of a season. It's very possible that they will fail, and most are saying it's likely.
However, it is also the program's biggest opportunity ever.
If they do beat Oregon, Stanford, Utah State, BYU, USC, Arizona State and everyone else, there will be no dispute like there was after the 2008 season as to where the Utes belong in the final rankings. They will have beaten the best, and by so doing, will be the best.
When the Utes hoisted their Fiesta and Sugar Bowl trophies, they earned the opportunity to demonstrate that the "little team that could" could also be a "big team that can." That's what any football program wants: a chance to prove they're the best by beating the best.
The Utes wanted that opportunity for decades. They got that opportunity when they joined the Pac-12 three years ago. Now, they get to show if they're up to it.
Note: This article has been modified from its original version to correct inaccurate information. Utah has had two players named to 2013 college football award preseason watch lists, not one.
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