The most successful football season ever for the University of Utah is now in the books, following Tuesday night's 16-13 Freedom Bowl victory over Arizona.

The Utes won 10 games for the first time ever, defeated four bowl teams, including two currently in the Top Ten - Oregon and Colorado State - beat rival BYU for the second straight year and ranked as one of the nation's top defensive and top scoring teams all season. Their only two losses were decided in the final minute of games they led most of the way.In the aftermath of all that success, many Ute fans are already looking forward to bigger and better things in the future. They may be disappointed if they're looking at a Holiday Bowl or Cotton Bowl appearance next year.

At first glance, things look bleak for the Utes of 1995 because they lose 16 of 22 starters. Gone will be All-American defensive tackle Luther Elliss, two-year starting quarterback Mike McCoy, leading rusher Charlie Brown, the two top receivers, Deron Claiborne and Curtis Marsh, leading tackler Mark Rexford and all-conference linemen Anthony Brown and Lance Scott.

Other top seniors who won't be back include leading sack-man Bronzell Miller, punter Jason Jones and defensive backs Ernest Boyd, Kareem Leary and Edwin Garrette and four-year offensive-line starter Roy Ma'afala.

Coach Ron McBride will miss his senior leadership, but he believes the Utes will be just fine next year. "We'll have a good team next year," he said.

McBride's confidence stems from the strong program he has built over the past five years. The Utes had several underclassmen who played important roles on this year's team either as backups or special teams players. They also have redshirts that a lot of folks haven't heard of, who could play key roles next year.

In looking at next year's prospects, just start with those fabulous freshmen Cal Beck and Kevin Dyson, the two heroes of the Utes' Freedom Bowl victory.

Beck was a backup cornerback, who could move into a starting role next year as well as continue as a full-time kick returner.

Dyson was the Utes' third leading receiver with 24 catches for 339 yards and two touchdowns, not counting the game-winner Tuesday night.

Another freshman, Juan Johnson, showed flashes of brilliance in the six games he played, but he'll need to avoid the injury bug that plagued him in high school and this season.

The offensive line will have the most holes to fill with the loss of four of five starters. Only right tackle Chris Rae returns.

Backups such as Chad Ventriglia and freshman Jay Link return and the Utes will be looking to the junior college ranks for more help. An all-American JC center, Chad Folk, has already committed to play for the Utes next year. Tight end Rick Tucker and backup Chris Jahries both return.

On the defensive side, the Kaufusi brothers - Jeff and Henry - return as starters on the line, where Louis DeCastro and Mike Wilson saw a lot of action this year.

Linebacker Jeff Kirkman, who missed the bowl game with a broken ankle, has one year left, and safeties Harold Lusk and Keith Harrison return.

The biggest question mark may be the quarterback position, where McCoy has taken nearly every snap the past two years.

The Utes could go for JC help, but McBride said, "There's no one out there better than what we've already got."

That means Brandon Jones, Ryan Shea and Mike Fouts will likely battle it out for the starting quarterback spot next spring.

Other players who could make an impact on next year's team include running backs Sylvester Cooperwood and Tai Lepule, linebackers Jason Hooks and David Cunningham, defensive back Clarence Lawson and receivers Jamil Williams and David Kozlowski.

"It's like a reign now," said senior Charlie Brown. "Next year's team is going to be excellent, even though we lose a lot of seniors."

Next year, the Utes have a record seven home games, including two Pac-10 opponents to start the season. Oregon, coming off its first Rose Bowl appearance in 37 years, will play in Rice Stadium Sept. 2, and then Stanford comes in to play Sept. 9.

The Utes never leave home during October as they play San Diego State, Colorado State, Air Force and Utah State. The other home game will be against Fresno State Sept. 23. The BYU game is in Provo Nov. 18.

UTE NOTES: A large contingent of fans were at the airport to congratulate the Utes when their charter returned at 3 a.m. Wednesday . . . From Randy Youngman of the Orange County Register "The scene at the end of the game with jubilant Utah fans streaming onto the field to celebrate with the players . . . is why the Freedom Bowl needs to survive."