Just in time for the start of the 2004 season, an A-to-Z primer on University of Utah football.
A is for attendance, with Utah setting a single-season record last year — despite only one sell-out at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Can't Ute fans get the red out?
B is for the Bowl Championship Series, and suddenly U. fans — hoping Utah can break into the vaunted college football fraternity of major postseason players — can begin to empathize with BYU's angst in 2001, when the 12-0 Cougars were "released" from BCS bowl consideration.
C is for "check that" — longtime U. radio broadcaster Bill Marcroft, "the voice of the Utes," will retire at the end of the 2004 season.
D is for defending Mountain West Conference champions, picked to repeat the feat in 2004. The U. faithful are even talking about an undefeated season — but head coach Urban Meyer doesn't want to hear any of that.
E is for ESPN, the sports cable network which had televised six Utah losses going into the 2003 season before the Utes won both ESPN outings last year and another two on ESPN2 (some would say that's going undefeated — at least on ESPN). If last year's trend continues, think the folks up on The Hill will be happy to move to CSTV?
F is for forty-six years between outright conference titles — meaning the 2003 MWC crown would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most Ute fans if that span is repeated.
G is for graduate student Alex Smith, who's back as Utah's starting quarterback and just a junior in eligibility. Talk about your upperclassman.
H is for helmets, which will sport a new color — candy scarlet — and a high-gloss, reflective finish more fitting for an automotive paint shop or a bowling-ball manufacturer.
I is for injuries, which the Utes can't afford to suffer at quarterback . . . and at running back . . . and at. . . .
J is for jinx, as in the sophomore-season jinx that befell BYU head coach Gary Crowton — and that Meyer will certainly avoid in 2004, won't he?
K is for kicking duties, which all-America candidate lineman Chris Kemoeatu will gladly leave to Bryan Borreson this season.
L is for the Liberty Bowl, and all the trappings afforded the MWC champion — a chance to play in chilly Memphis in late December against the Conference USA champ in a pairing quickly forgotten once the slate of BCS bowls begin.
M is for the Muss, the U. student fan club. Muss has quickly become the vogue replacement for another high-profile, four-letter M word from the Ron McBride era: MAFU.
N is for nonconference opponents Texas A&M, Arizona, North Carolina and Utah State, with the first three boasting national renown but not much success of late. The foursome are coming off a 2003 season in which they combined for an 11-37 record.
O is for the O FF E NS E — (that's a "spread" offense, get it?)
P is for Utah president Michael K. Young, who is . . . what, a BYU alum?
Q is for quarterback quandary, which is what Utah will face should Smith unexpectedly go down.
R is for the rankings that U. fans will be following faithfully during an anticipated perfect season in which the Utes move up the polls and into BCS consideration.
S is for defensive back Morgan Scalley, whom we would love to see start shaking his finger at opposing receivers when he breaks up a pass. We'd call it "the Scalley wag."
T is for testy, which is what Meyer gets when his players and U. fans start talking about an undefeated season.
U is for Urban's undefeated Utah — but don't tell him we said that.
V is for victories, like 11 in the regular season and another in a bowl — maybe a BCS bowl?
W is for Wyoming, where Meyer will make his first visit as the U. coach. But as a former assistant at Colorado State, he's visited Laramie under even more hostile conditions than the Utes will face this season.
X is for x-pectations — like maybe an undefeated season?
Y is for "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet," the Utes' 2004 marketing campaign, which lost some of its luster when the U. didn't shell out extra bu-bu-bu-bucks to use the 1970s pop-rock hit from Ba-Ba-Ba-Ba-Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
Z is for the zero points allowed BYU by the Ute defense in the 2003 finale. The Cougars would have rather had anybody but their instate rivals snap their NCAA-record streak of 361 games without being shut out; the Utes wouldn't have it any other way.