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Following up on a 10-2 season that included a bowl victory and a top-10 national ranking is a difficult task, particularly when those things have never happened before in school history.

That's the problem facing Ron McBride and his University of Utah football team, which lost 15 starters, including most of the key players, such as Luther Elliss, Mike McCoy, Mark Rexford and Charlie Brown.Expectations have risen at the U. where losing season had become the norm for a long time. "The players expect to be good and that's good that they feel that way," said McBride. "But I can't worry about what the fans think."

Nevertheless, McBride and the Utes are optimistic about the 1995 season with a record seven home games and a deep, talented team whose biggest shortcoming is inexperience.

The Utes open Sept. 2 against defending Pac-10 champion Oregon at Rice Stadium and follow that with a home game against Stanford, another Pac-10 school. The Western Athletic Conference season begins Sept. 16 at New Mexico.

One of the biggest challenges for the Utes is replacing McCoy, who became the second-most prolific passer in Ute history while finishing in the nation's top 10 in total offense for the second straight year.

The Utes vacillated for a long time between juniors Brandon Jones and Mike Fouts at the quarterback position, before finally settling on Jones last week. It's not that both are great, rather that neither outshone the other during spring and fall drills. The passing game could struggle in the early going.

The running back position looks well-stocked with Juan Johnson and Henry Lusk joined by newcomers Omar Bacon, Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala and Teneil Ethridge. Also, last year's starter, Rob Hamilton, may be granted another season by the NCAA and play fullback again.

The receiving corps is inexperienced, but does have Freedom Bowl hero Kevin Dyson and David Kozlowski back from an injury. JC transfer Rocky Henry is expected to play a lot, while Matt Fankhauser, Johnny Converse and Donny Utu provide depth. Lusk, who had to sit out last season with a broken shoulder blade, will also see a lot of time as a pass receiver.

Offensive line may the most inexperienced position on the team with four new starters joining Chris Rae. Senior Rick Tucker is back at tight end and is being pushed by several young players.

New offensive coordinator Fred Graves hopes to keep Utah as one of the nation's offensive leaders by showing more variety on the offensive schemes. "We want to give the defense different looks so they can't settle in against us," he said.

Despite losing all-American Luther Elliss to the pros, the defensive line looks to be strong again with the Kaufusi brothers, Henry and Jeff, returning as starters along with part-time starters Nate Kia and Louie DeCastro. Toele Fa'amoe may start inside, while newcomers Pene Talamaivao, Michael Baulkman and letterman Chad Kauhaahaa will all play plenty.

The entire linebacker starting corps must be replaced, but Jason Hooks, Chris Godfrey and Mark Livingston are looking good so far. Seventeen-year-old freshman Kautai Olevao may be a star of the future and will see a lot of time this year.

The defensive backfield returns just one starter, free safety Harold Lusk, who had four interceptions last year. Calbert Beck, whose long kickoff returns helped win the BYU and Arizona games, will start at cornerback and still handle kickoffs. Sophomores Brandon Dart and Clarence Lawson are also expected to start in the secondary with newcomers Artis Jackson and Armand Boglin in the mix. Oft-injured Jeff Kirkman will also play if he can stay healthy.

"The defense has the chance to be really strong," said McBride. "It is not as experienced, but the speed is better than last year."

Daniel Pulsipher is back to handle the kicking chores after going 50 for 50 on PAT kicks. New Zealand native Terrance Keehan will take over at punter and also play wide receiver.

What most of the Ute coaches are excited about is the team's increased depth. To show how much deeper the Utes are this year, some players who were backups last year can't even crack the two-deep chart.

With a schedule that doesn't include any Nebraskas on one extreme or Idaho States on the other, the Utes have the kind of team where they could win every game - or lose every game they play. Neither will happen, but look for the Utes to be right around .500 or better.



'95 Utah schedule

Date Opponent Time

Sept. 2 Oregon 7:05 p.m.

Sept. 9 Stanford 7:05 p.m.

Sept. 16 at New Mexico 6:05 p.m.

Sept. 23 Fresno State 7:05 p.m.

Sept. 30 at UTEP 7:05 p.m.

Oct. 7 San Diego St. 7:05 p.m.

Oct. 14 Colorado St. 12:05 p.m.

Oct. 21 Air Force 12:05 p.m.

Oct. 28 Utah St. 12:05 p.m.

Nov. 4 at Wyoming Noon

Nov. 18 at BYU Noon

Radio: KALL AM-910

Tickets: 581-6641