Utes look to repeat last year?s success

By Bubba Brown, Staff Writer

After a season that included a Mountain West Conference championship, an unblemished record and a victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, what path lies ahead for the Utes’ encore season?

The Utes open the 2009 campaign at home against a familiar foe, Utah State, whom they have beaten 11 consecutive times. Former defensive coordinator Gary Andersen will make his Ute homecoming, returning to Rice-Eccles Stadium as the new head coach of the Aggies.

The following two weeks, Utah will travel to San Jose State and Oregon to play two consecutive games that will be televised by the ESPN family of networks.

“Any time you’re on national TV, it’s certainly a positive,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “More people have a chance to watch us play, and obviously you want to play well.”

The Oregon game will pit the Utes against a highly regarded BCS team, which in addition to garnering more exposure for the Utes, will be an early-season barometer for Utah’s progress.

Utah will wrap up its nonconference schedule against another BCS team when it squares off with Louisville during Homecoming Week. The Utes then have their bye week, which comes earlier in the season than usual. Whittingham believes the early break will benefit his team.

“It’s positive for two reasons,” Whittingham said. “First, it comes at a natural break between our nonconference and conference games. Second, people forget that midseason is after about the third or fourth game when you account for two-a-days and the practices leading up to the season.”

October looks to be the softest portion of the schedule, as three of the teams Utah faces finished the 2008 season with a .500 conference winning percentage or worse. The only team Utah will play during this stretch that finished with a winning conference record is Air Force, which the Utes will play at home.

In stark contrast to October, November appears to be daunting.

“We definitely have a tough November, although our track record has been good in November the past few seasons,” Whittingham said.

They begin the month with New Mexico, which, despite finishing with a 2-6 conference record, nearly beat Utah last year, and historically has been a challenge for the Utes.

Up next is the unenviable task of facing TCU on the road. Many college football prognosticators believe that TCU will be the best of the non-BCS teams. Last year, Utah narrowly defeated the Horned Frogs in a battle of top 10 teams, which helped send Utah to a BCS game.

After a short reprieve from the difficult schedule with a rebuilding game vs. San Diego State at home, the Utes take the short drive down I-15 to Provo, where BYU awaits.

The rivalry game promises to be a hard-fought matchup and a thrilling end to the regular season. Whittingham knows that this formidable portion of the schedule may define the 2009 Utes.

“I’ve always believed that if you want to be a champion, you have to play well in November,” he said.

Although it’s unknown whether the Utes can duplicate last year’s success, this year’s schedule certainly has the makings of another great year.

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Tyler Cobb/The Daily Utah Chronicle

Kyle Whittingham and the Utes will play in two nationally televised games early in the 2009 season. The first game will be against San Jose State and the second will be one week later when the Utes travel to Oregon to face the Ducks.