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Perfection possible for U.

But chances of going unbeaten always remote

Shhh . . . don't let Urban Meyer hear about this.

We're talking about the words "undefeated" and "unbeaten." As in all wins, no losses for his Utah squad.

We didn't dare ask the second-year Ute coach about it because we knew he'd say it was absurd, preposterous and ridiculous to even think his team could possibly go unbeaten this season.

Maybe it is.

But the fact that the Utes went 10-2 last season and are picked to win the Mountain West Conference with a much-improved offense, and that the Utes benefit from one of the weakest nonconference schedules in the country, makes such talk possible. A few Ute players have discussed the possibility, but that was before their coach set them straight.

Still, if each game on the Utes' schedule was put on a bookie's board right now, Utah would be the likely favorite in each one. That's right now.

Who knows what the line will be the week before the Utah-BYU game in November.

Utah has gone undefeated and untied before, three times, in fact.

The last time was clear back in 1930, when Ike Armstrong led the "Redskins," as they were called at the time, to an 8-0 record.

Utah was a member of the Rocky Mountain Conference at the time and absolutely breezed through the season, allowing just three touchdowns all year and outscoring its opponents by an average score of 43-3.

In 1941, the Utes went 6-0-2 with ties against BYU and Denver, again under Armstrong. In 1947, Utah came close, winning seven straight games before losing 7-6 to Idaho and closing the season with a 20-20 tie against Arizona on the road. The following year, the Utes went 8-1-1 again, but lost handily to Southern California 27-0 in the season opener.

In modern times, the Utes haven't come close to going undefeated.

Or have they?

In 1994, Utah won its first eight games before stumbling against New Mexico and Air Force. In both games, Utah had substantial first-half leads before faltering in the second half to lose by two and seven points, respectively. The Utes ended up ranked No. 8 in one poll and No. 10 in the other and could have ended up ranked No. 3 behind unbeatens Nebraska and Penn State, if they'd held on in those two games.

The following year, the Utes lost four games, but all were by less than a touchdown. In 1998, Utah again lost four games, but remarkably, all were by less than three points and the defeats added up to a grand total of nine points.

Certainly, a team needs plenty of breaks to go unbeaten. In 1984, BYU won several close games and needed a last-minute touchdown to beat a 6-5 Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl.

So what's the Utes' scenario for an unbeaten season?

In the first two weeks, the Utes face a pair of teams from BCS conferences coming off down seasons in Texas A&M and Arizona. Either one is capable of popping up and beating the Utes if they're off their game. But let's say the Utes survive those two.

The Utes should be big favorites against Utah State and a down Air Force team in September, which would bring them to 4-0.

Then comes a big test at New Mexico, one of two teams to beat Utah last year, in that ESPN2 game on Oct. 1. After a week off, the Utes get a couple of home games against another BCS team coming off a bad year (North Carolina) and a team that Utah seems to throttle every year (UNLV).

If the Utes can get by a challenging roadie at San Diego State on Oct. 30, they'd be 8-0 and have to beat Colorado State and BYU at home and Wyoming on the road in November to stay spotless.

Say the Utes were 11-0 at that point, they could perhaps be in line for a BCS bowl, where they'd face their toughest test of the season. If they ended up in the Liberty Bowl again, then their chances would be quite high to retain a perfect record.

But no matter how promising it looks on paper, the fact is, it's extremely difficult to go unbeaten in Division I football. The fact that there are more than 100 Division I-A schools and many years no teams go unbeaten, tells you something.

The best year for unbeatens was 1973 when three schools — Notre Dame, Penn State and Miami-Ohio — had perfect records, and three others — Ohio State, Oklahoma and Michigan — were unbeaten with one tie apiece.

However, seven times since then, including last season, no Division I-A teams went unbeaten.

So don't get your hopes up too much, Ute fans, because the odds aren't good that your team will go unbeaten. But if the unimaginable happens, you can bet Meyer will be more than happy to talk about it.

Area in question

Can the Utes' go undefeated? They have a chance, with a solid returning team and weak nonconference schedule. But the odds are long. Since 1984, when arch-rival BYU went unbeaten, just 22 teams have gone through a season unscathed. That's a little more than one per year.


E-mail: sor@desnews.com