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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Let’s get it started

It won’t make or break Mountain West title aspirations and may or may not play a direct role in the team’s bowl selection at the end of the season. But either way, the U football team’s season opener on the road against UCLA-now just four days away-could be a serious indicator of just how good this team really is.

And the Utes themselves wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’ve looked great,” senior quarterback Brett Ratliff said. “I can’t wait to go out and show everybody how we’ve improved and, with the guys we have, how well we’re going to be able to do this year.”

What awaits the team in Los Angeles this weekend is a rebuilt but still dangerous UCLA club that U head coach Kyle Whittingham said “could be the most athletic team we face all year.” That much may be obvious considering the Bruins’ conference-the typically high-powered and well-respected Pac-10-but there’s more to see than just inter-conference bragging rights.

The Utes went through a difficult up-and-down season a year ago, crippled by offseason losses and perhaps unrealistic expectations because of the dream 2004 season. And one of the primary difficulties the team had was winning away from Rice-Eccles Stadium. The 2005 club dropped its first three road games of the year, repeatedly faltering under pressure down the stretch.

But this fall, players are quick to point out that this year’s team is NOT last year’s.

“I think that we are a different team from where we were last year,” Ratliff said. “That was kind of coming off the ’04 season, relying a lot on that and just how good we did the year before. This year, we’re going to have to prove something and make ourselves known for the team now, not the year before last. I’m excited to see what we can do.”

The struggles of last fall-which included a missed opportunity to win the game at the goal-line against Colorado State and a turnover-laden breakdown against the UNC Tar Heels-may have marred the 2005 season as a whole, but the Utes hope to use that experience to their advantage this season. And the first test of that restored mettle comes this Saturday.

“I think it’s huge for the young guys; the guys that played last year know the experience we had in those away games now,” senior defensive back Eric Weddle said. “We’ve just got to take care of business. Now we don’t look at it as an away game-it’s just another game and another playing field.”

The Utes have spent parts of the last three weeks studying film on their first opponent and are confident they can match up with the Bruins-or any team, for that matter. While the two teams rarely meet-the last head-to-head matchup coming more than three decades ago-UCLA has won all seven of the two schools’ meetings. But those losses all came in the old days. These days, the top teams in the Mountain West Conference aren’t intimidated by their West-Coast counterparts. If anything, they’re looking to prove exactly how far they’ve come.

“Always, when you go against a team from a bigger conference, you get a chance to prove yourself,” Weddle said. “You’re not going to win any respect just by winning the Mountain West or beating up teams in our conference. You gain respect by beating teams from bigger conferences and having a good track record against them. We’re always trying to prove ourselves and show that we’re just as good as everyone else.”

UCLA is an early favorite in Vegas, despite plenty of hype that the Utes could, if things go according to plan, burst the BCS bubble once again. But the Utes aren’t worrying about odds, nor what anyone else around the country thinks of them. They’re concentrating on one thing-beating UCLA and proving once and for all that the balance of power out West isn’t the lopsided competition it used to be.

“The Mountain West is getting better at football, and fortunately Utah is one of the top teams,” Ratliff said. “I see us doing really well this year and keep that tradition going.”

Kamil Krzaczynski

U receivers and densive backs, both expected to be strong units this year, batled each other all fall camp and now prepare to face off against their UCLA counterparts this saturday at the rose bowl.

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