For the first time since Jan. 4, 2005, the University of Utah has a nationally ranked football team.
Three days after opening the season with a 25-23 victory at Michigan, the Utes are 22nd in this week's Associated Press top 25 and No. 23 in the USA Today coaches poll.
"I'm very proud for our players and pleased for our players because they deserve the recognition," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "But I'm oblivious to that. All I do is focus on UNLV and try to figure out a way to get another win. But it's a nice accolade for our guys."
Utah (1-0) opens Mountain West Conference play Saturday at Rice- Eccles Stadium against UNLV (1-0). It'll be the first time the Utes take the field as a ranked team since their historic 35-7 win over Pittsburgh in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. The victory capped a perfect 12-0 BCS-busting season and led to final rankings of No. 4 in the AP rankings and No. 5 in the coaches poll.
Urban Meyer then departed for Florida and Utah endured a rebuilding process of sorts under Whittingham. The Utes have won three consecutive bowl games with the new regime, but were 24-14 overall and 14-10 in conference play while overcoming major injuries along the way.
"We had some tough times. It's good to see that this team finally came together and finally is playing up to its capabilities, somewhat," senior quarterback Brian Johnson said while noting that a national ranking is a big deal. "It's a huge accolade for us. I think this team is mature enough to handle the success of being a top 25 team in the country. We've just got to keep going forward from there and keep winning football games."
The latter is something the Utes have done with regularity as of late. They've won nine of their last 10 games dating back to last season.
"It's great for the program to get back in the top 25," defensive coordinator Gary Andersen said. "It's exciting to get back into the top 25. It doesn't really mean much now. It's kind of where you sit at the end of the day. But it's always good for a program to get back in the top 25."
Hopefully, he added, the Utes will continue to play well enough to keep climbing.
Utah is currently wedged between Fresno State and UCLA in the AP top 25 and in-between Clemson and South Carolina in the coaches poll.
"It's an unbelievable honor. Now our focus is to keep winning. We want to stay ranked," Johnson said. "It's one thing to be in there Week 2, but I think we would like to be in there Week 12, Week 13. So we've got to find a way to keep winning, keep getting better and play well."
Defensive end Paul Kruger agreed.
"It's awesome. It's a special deal. It's good to be in a spotlight," he said. "I think it's going to be motivating and all those things that come with it. It's pretty exciting."
Utah's inclusion in the polls marks the first time since 1996 that the Utes and rival BYU (15th in both rankings) are in the top 25 at the same time.
"It's a good thing," Whittingham said. "It's healthy for the state and healthy for the Mountain West Conference."EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham reiterated that injuries to quarterback Corbin Louks (right shoulder), safety Robert Johnson (left hamstring) and left tackle Zane Beadles (knee) are day-to-day and all three players are still questionable for Saturday's game ... Tight end Brad Clifford (hip flexor) is out indefinitely and linebacker Lisi Leota (shoulder) will be sidelined for two weeks ... Utah season ticket sales have now exceeded 30,000 ... ESPN.com is projecting that Utah will land in the Fiesta Bowl in its latest bowl predictions.
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