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Is Utah football overlooked by PAC-12 rivals?


Should the old guard of PAC-12 football, especially those on top, be keeping a wary eye on the Utah Utes, a relative newcomer to the conference?

You bet. We may all have overlooked the Utes already, and it’s only June.

The Utes joined the old PAC-10, along with the Colorado Buffaloes, for the 2011 season and have since made only a mild and relatively quiet splash. Near the end of the year, however, Utah came thisclose to winning the PAC-12 South.

Had the UCLA Bruins lost to Colorado in Week 12 before losing to the USC Trojans in Week 13, and had the Utes managed to beat Colorado in the regular season finale, it might have been Utah in the inaugural PAC-12 Championship game against Oregon instead of UCLA. Utah was on four-game tear as the finale approached and were seen as the hottest team in the South if not the conference.

Sure, early losses to Washington, Arizona State and Cal damaged Utah’s PAC-12 record, but the Utes were right there as the season drew to a close. Still, a victory over Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl was impressive and gave the Utes potential momentum that head coach Kyle Whittingham will try to harness in 2012. Starting quarterback Jordan Wynn is returning healthy and new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson, a former Utes passer himself, should help Wynn improve considerably. Utah also fields an underrated defensive front.

This year? We are looking a trio of North powerhouses in Oregon, Stanford and Washington, yet USC seems to be the lone title contender in the South. Utah, if it can handle South rivals UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and Colorado, could be primed to make an assault on the summit of the division.

The Utes will have to get off to a running start: After three non-conference games and a trip to Arizona State to kick off the season, Utah hosts USC on Oct. 4 and then travels to UCLA on Oct. 13. USC has already garnered several No. 1 projections for the upcoming season and, despite losing coach Dennis Erickson, UCLA impressed many near the end of the 2011 season and expectations are high.

It may take an upset, but it might not take much more to push Utah back into the headlines.