Utah quarterback Brian Johnson is one of 26 candidates for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, a national accolade based on athletic success, citizenship and academic achievement.

"It's always a special honor any time you get nominated for something like that," said Johnson, who acknowledged it would feel even better to win the award. "You've got to take it for what it is. It's a huge honor. I'm excited I was nominated for it."

Johnson, who is preparing for his final season with the Utes, is returning to full strength after offseason shoulder surgery. He estimates his recovery at 90-95 percent.

Last season, Johnson led Utah to victories in eight of its last nine games. The native Texan capped things off by earning offensive MVP honors in the Poinsettia Bowl win over Navy.

The three-time Mountain West Conference all-academic honoree recently received his bachelor's degree in mass communication and is beginning work on another degree. His cumulative grade-point average is 3.32.

Johnson is the MWC's lone finalist for the Unitas Award. The others include: C.J. Bacher, Northwestern; Todd Boeckman, Ohio State; Rhett Bomar, Sam Houston State; Tom Brandstater, Fresno State; Hunter Cantwell, Louisville; Rudy Carpenter, Arizona State; Chase Clement, Rice; Chase Daniel, Missouri; Joe Ganz, Nebraska; Sean Glennon, Virginia Tech; Cullen Harper, Clemson; Graham Harrell, Texas Tech; Chase Holbrook, New Mexico State; Brian Hoyer, Michigan State; Will Hudgens, Memphis; Nate Longshore, California; Tyler Lorenzen, Connecticut; Stephen McGee, Texas A&M; Ben Olson, UCLA; Curtis Painter, Purdue; John Parker Wilson, Alabama; Mike Teel, Rutgers; Willie Tuitama, Arizona; Pat White, West Virginia; Drew Willy, Buffalo.

The winner will be announced on Dec. 5.


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com