Football Notebook

By Bryan Chouinard, Asst. Sports Editor

Competition on the rise

As the U football program has risen to the national spotlight during the past decade, the program has not only caught the attention of fans, but of other programs as well.

Year in and year out, Utah faces some of the toughest competition in the country in the Mountain West Conference, which many consider one of the most underrated football conferences in the United States. But it’s the nonconference schedule that has continued to improve as schools in Bowl Championship Series conferences have been forced to take notice of the Utes in recent years.

In 2008, Utah opened its season against one of the winningest programs in Division 1-A history. The Utes traveled to Ann Arbor to take on the Michigan Wolverines, who were playing their first game under their new head coach, Rich Rodriguez. The Utes also hosted perennial Pac-10 power Oregon State last season and beat the Beavers on a 37-yard field goal as time expired.

The schedule for 2009 will be no different for the Utes, with two BCS conference teams coming up. First, the Utes will travel to Eugene, Ore., on Oct. 19 to take on the Ducks at Autzen Stadium. Utah will host the Louisville Cardinals of the Big East conference on Sept. 26 at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Along with Oregon and Louisville, Utah will be facing San Jose State and in-state rival Utah State to round out its 2009 nonconference schedule.

Utah’s 2010 schedule was already shaping up to be one of the toughest in school history before announcing last July that the team made an agreement with the University of Pittsburgh to play a home-and-home series starting next year. The last time the Utes and the Panthers saw each other was in 2004 when the two teams met in the Fiesta Bowl, which Utah ended up winning 35-7 to cap a perfect season.

“We’re excited about being able to put together a series with Pittsburgh,” said Utah athletic director Chris Hill. “It gives our players a chance to compete against a Big East school and play in that part of the country.”

To go along with Pittsburgh, Utah will also travel to South Bend, Ind., to square off against Notre Dame on Nov. 13, 2010. Utah will round out its schedule playing Iowa State (Big 12) and San Jose State that year as well.

Fall camp comes to a close

Fall camp officially came to a close during the weekend with the conclusion of the third and final intersquad scrimmage. Head coach Kyle Whittingham described the third as the “best scrimmage of the three.”

“(Camp) was solid,” he said. “We got a lot of work done but still need these next days before we play. I think we’ve come a long way.”

For one, the Utah coaching staff narrowed its search for its starting quarterback from three to two when they moved ex-Ute Corbin Louks to safety before the junior transferred to University of Nevada.

Starters on both sides of the ball saw limited action in camp and scrimmages, but Whittingham said he was pleased by what he saw out of the receiving core from top to bottom.

Although no final decision has been made as to who will be throwing to the talented group of receivers, voters in the coaches and AP polls each ranked Utah among the Top 25 in the country, ranking the Utes No. 18 and No. 19 respectively. This marks the first time in school history that the Utes cracked both preseason polls in the same season.

Injury update

The Utah coaching staff gave limited action to starters in an effort to help minimize injuries. Looking back on camp, the plan worked as well as they could have hoped.

“We came out of camp relatively healthy,” Whittingham said. “We still got some guys with things healing up but I’m pleased to this point.”

Although Utah suffered no major injuries to any of its veteran offensive weapons, the defensive unit took a shot when newly assigned co-captain Koa Misi went down with a back injury last week. Misi has been said to be out indefinitely and though no time table has been set for his return, Whittingham remains optimistic.

“We’re just hoping for the best,” he said. “Right now, (Misi) would be a questionable guy for Utah State. He’s one of the best defenders in the conference, he’s a leader on defense, but we’ll get him back.”

Along with Misi, the Utes will be without junior right guard Walter Watts8212;out with a knee injury8212;and freshman defensive tackle Latu Heimuli.

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Tyler Cobb

Utah defensive end Koa Misi suffered a back injury last week in camp. No return date has been set, but the coaching staff is optimistic.