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Hold the hype: Things could go wrong in ’04

SHARE Hold the hype: Things could go wrong in ’04

If you want more hype for the University of Utah football team, you've come to the wrong place. In the interest of balancing those lofty, weighty preseason expectations for the Utes, this is the anti-hype.

Consider it a favor for Ute coaches, who are none too happy with the endless gab about unbeaten records, BCS bowls, national rankings, conference titles, etc. It's enough to keep any coach up at night. The expectations have been raised so high that one loss might be deemed a failure.

The Utes believe the media created most of such talk by baiting players with loaded questions — Can you go undefeated? Will you be disappointed if you don't? Could you make the BCS? Meyer almost placed his team off-limits to reporters to stem the hype and the flow of e-mails and letters he is receiving accusing his team of being cocky. But even Meyer was talked into doing the "You-ain't-seen-nothin'-yet" TV ad that fed the monster, albeit reluctantly, there being a fine line between selling tickets and setting up a team for failure.

"We kept wondering when it (the hype) was going to stop," says Ute sports information director Liz Abel. "It won't go away. The coaches don't like it at all."

Fine. Instead of looking at the bright side, let's look at the not-so-bright side. Here are the Seven Reasons the Utes Could Stumble — or Why You Should Hold Off On Buying Those BCS Tickets:

Utah is one injury away from disaster. If quarterback Alex Smith gets knocked out of action, the Utes are toast. The backup quarterback is Brian Johnson, a 17-year-old kid from Texas who was in high school a few months ago. If the Utes are smart, they'll encase Smith in bubble wrap, escort him to class and tuck him in at night. He's the franchise. For that matter, the Utes are thin at nearly every position, except running back and wide receiver.

Sure, the Utes were 10-2 last season, but it's not as if they blew out the competition. Half of their wins were decided by two to seven points, including one in triple overtime and another that ended with an 80-yard fumble return for a game-saving touchdown with 1:33 remaining. As one Mountain West coach told a TV announcer, "It isn't like some of the past teams in the league where they return a bunch of starters after beating everyone by a ton. They barely won a bunch of close games, and they stayed healthy and didn't turn the ball over."

Everyone keeps saying the Utes have an easy schedule. Take a closer look: The Utes open with Texas A&M, which handed the Utes a 28-26 loss to start last season — and that was with a team that finished 4-8. It was A&M's first year under coach Dennis Franchione, who has done quick fixes on struggling teams at New Mexico, Alabama and TCU. A&M, a traditional powerhouse, is going to get better. And since when have road games at Arizona, San Diego State, New Mexico and Wyoming ever been easy for the Utes? It's not a tough schedule, but it's no cakewalk either.

The Utes, as some coaches and veteran players have noted, have been a wildly unpredictable team over the years. They have a history of failing to win games and deliver championships when it was expected. In 2000, for instance, they were picked to win the league title. They proceeded to lose their first four games and went down faster than the Titanic.

The Utes return 15 full- and part-time starters, but, this being a glass-is-half-empty type of column, consider the losses. Their top running back, Brandon Warfield, is gone. So is the heart of last year's defense — safety Dave Revill and linebackers Ray Holdcraft and Josh Savage — plus their best cornerback, Anthony Parker. Zach Tune, who might have been their best linebacker this season, was booted off the team.

According to players and media, the Utes have a realistic shot for an unbeaten season. Whoa, timeout. Do they know how many teams in the past dozen years have gone through a season without losing a game?

Sixteen. That's a little more than one per season. Going undefeated is nearly impossible. The last time the Utes escaped a season without a defeat, World War II was just getting started.

Meyer is one of the nation's current boy-wonder coaches after producing a 10-2 record in his first season, but does any of this sound familiar? Think BYU. Strange things can happen a year later, as Gary Crowton can tell you. The next season or two will tell the real story.

E-mail: drob@desnews.com