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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham shouts during a team scrimmage in Salt Lake City Friday, April 5, 2013. The Utes were selected to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South at the Pac-12 media days in Culver City, Calif.

CULVER CITY, Calif. — Expectations aren’t as high for the Utah Utes the third time around.

After being picked to finish second in the Pac-12 South Division last year and third in 2011, they’re tabbed to finish fifth in this season’s preseason media poll — ahead of Colorado, but behind UCLA, Arizona State, USC and Arizona.

Although acknowledging that it may be used as a little bit of motivation, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham noted that the Utes never pay much attention to the preseason hype, whether they’re chosen first, fifth, seventh or 12th.

“It doesn’t matter,” Whittingham said at Friday’s Pac-12 media day at the Sony Pictures Studios. “We just go about our business and control what we can control.”

And that, Whittingham explained, has been pinpointed after last season’s disappointing 5-7 campaign.

“We’ve got to correct our deficiencies. Last year we didn’t throw the ball well enough — not nearly well enough — and that’s one of the main reasons we brought Dennis (Erickson) in, is to jumpstart the offense and in particular the throw game,” he said. “Defensively, we were very average and we’re not used to being average on defense and so that’s something that we’ve got to get corrected. Our red zone defense was way off the pace — as was our inability to get takeaways is maybe our main problem overall.”

Senior defensive end Trevor Reilly has high expectations this season. Reilly said the Utes expect to win every game. As such, he has little regard for the preseason poll.

“It means nothing,” Reilly said.

Junior tight end Jake Murphy also discounted the significance of the predicted finish.

“I think it’s all just for the fans and it doesn’t really matter when it comes down to it,” he said.

Like Reilly, though, he noted that it could provide some motivation for the team — adding to the determination of getting back to a bowl game and ending a run of two consecutive losing conference seasons.

“We’ve got plenty of motivation right now,” Murphy said.

UCLA topped the South Division poll. The Bruins received 12 of the 25 first-place votes and finished with 130 points (based on a 6-5-4-3-2-1 scoring system) to edge out Arizona State. The Sun Devils (124 points) were the top choice of nine voters, while USC (113) was third with four.

Arizona was fourth was 73 points. Utah (58) and Colorado (27) rounded things out.

In the North Division, Oregon led the preseason poll with 139 points and 14 first-place votes. Stanford was a close second with 134 points and 11 first-place votes.

Oregon State (91), Washington (81), California (45) and Washington State (32) follow the projected frontrunners.

Oregon was also ticketed as favorites to win the Pac-12 championship game. They received 13 votes. Stanford was second with eight and UCLA garnered three.

The conference media poll has accurately picked 11 of the past 13 champions.

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2013 Pac-12 Preseason Media Poll

North Division

  1. Oregon (14) — 139
  2. Stanford (11) — 134
  3. Oregon State — 91
  4. Washington — 81
  5. California — 45
  6. Washington State — 32
South Division
  1. UCLA (12) — 130
  2. Arizona State (9) — 124
  3. USC (4) — 113
  4. Arizona — 73
  5. UTAH — 58
  6. Colorado — 27
Pac-12 Title Game Champion: Oregon (13), Stanford (8), UCLA (3).

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