Football Notebook

By Christopher Kamrani, Asst. Sports Editor

Top 10 material

It certainly seems longer than four years ago when the Utah was ranked this high, but entering its 10th week of the 2008 college football season, Utah is the No. 10 team in the nation.

At 8-0, the Utes are No. 9 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and have made a significant jump since the beginning of the season.

“It’s a positive for our players and program to be recognized,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “But it’s still early. We have four games to go. Are we where we want to be? Sure. But we have some tough games on the horizon.”

Aside from the grueling schedule the Utes face from here on out, they are getting a fair share of national attention. After BYU’s ship sank to the bottom of the sea, the national media has pinned the Utes as the favorite to potentially crash the Bowl Championship Series this year as they did under Whittingham and former head coach Urban Meyer in 2004.

Despite the high ranking, the coaching staff and leaders such as defensive co-captain Brice McCain continue to preach that the Utes still have a long way to go.

“I was happy, but we ain’t accomplished nothing yet,” McCain said about the team’s ranking. “We’re blessed to be at the top of the mix with all the other great teams out there in college football.”

Mr. Johnson, meet Mr. Smith

In his topsy-turvy five-year career as a Utah quarterback, senior Brian Johnson has tied former Heisman Trophy finalist and No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith with 21 wins as a starting quarterback. Johnson’s career as a starter is 21-7 compared to that of Smith’s 21-1 during his two years of tutelage under the offensive-minded Meyer.

Johnson is aware he has great potential to supplant Smith as the winningest starting quarterback in the history of Utah football.

“I think it’s an unbelievable accomplishment,” Johnson said, referring to tying the record. “Just to tie Alex and what he did for this program and the way he played, it’s a huge accomplishment. And hopefully, I can beat it.”

Johnson was on the 2004 team as a backup to Smith as a 17-year-old freshman. After Smith graduated to the NFL, Johnson’s calling card came in 2005 when he led an electric spread-option offense and was No. 4 in the nation in total offense.

He blew out his knee in the season’s second-to-last game, against New Mexico8212;the same squad his Utes take on this week. On account of his torn ACL, Johnson missed the entire 2006 season. In 2007, it was the same old song and dance for Johnson as he went down with a shoulder separation in the season opener against Oregon State. Despite a dismal start, Johnson’s emergence from injury led the Utes to a 9-4 record.

Johnson and the staff decided to take his eligible redshirt season with the knee injury. Luckily enough for Johnson and the entire team, “BJ” is here for another year.

“At the end of the day, when we sat down and made the decision to redshirt, I think this is what you redshirted for,” Johnson said. “If you looked at it back then, it was gonna be Brent Casteel’s senior year, Bradon Godfrey’s senior year, Freddie Brown’s senior year and Darrell Mack. We had a lot of guys coming back offensively. Back when we made the decision, it looked good on paper, and it set up nicely offensively.”

Five years down the road and after experiencing the highest of highs and lowest of lows, Johnson is relishing this “extra” year that has turned out to be undefeated so far.

“The key is not for us to get ahead of ourselves and fall in love with ourselves,” Johnson said.

Hospital bill?

After the bye week, the Utes are prepared and ready to welcome back some players who had injuries8212;most notably senior defensive tackle Kenape Eliapo who broke his foot in the season opener at Michigan is “close” to coming back this week against the Lobos.

“Kenape Eliapo has been doing very well and been practicing,” Whittingham said. “We will know by Wednesday if he will be available or not. It will be a big plus if he is back8212;that is the area we’ve been the thinnest in this season with those early hits. That will be a big plus.”

Special teams standouts Deshawn Richard and Kepa Gaison are on their way back to being 100 percent as well, linebacker Stevenson Sylvester said.

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Lucas Isley

Brian Johnson will have the opportunity to pass Alex Smith as Utah?s winningest starting quarterback when the Utes face New Mexico this Saturday.