Urban Meyer repeatedly said last year's senior class was the best in University of Utah football history. Statistically speaking, he may have been right. The Utes, after all, went 12-0 while busting the Bowl Championship Series.

A year later, new head coach Kyle Whittingham is preparing to send another talented group of seniors on their way. Saturday's game with New Mexico will be their final outing at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

"The guys last year set a really high standard. It's hard to live up to that. A 12-0 season, that rarely happens, so it's very difficult," said starting center Jesse Boone, one of 25 Utes to be honored in pregame ceremonies. "I don't feel like we've really had a bad year or unsuccessful year to this point. Now, if we lose these last two games, it's a different story."

At 5-4 overall, the Utes can become bowl-eligible with a victory. They've won two straight games entering season-ending games against New Mexico and BYU.

"I think we are really started to rally right now. Last week was our best game we've had yet," Boone said. "I think we're really starting to turn the corner. We could really wind up on a big note this year."

Boone added that the Utes have taken Whittingham's plea to play with passion and speed to heart. The biggest motivator, however, is going to a bowl game. Although another trip to the Fiesta Bowl is out of reach, Boone and his teammates are happy about other possibilities. Las Vegas, San Diego and San Francisco all sound good.

Steve Fifita, the defensive MVP in Utah's Fiesta Bowl victory over Pittsburgh in January, acknowledged it has taken a while for this year's team to jell. He disagrees with anyone who points to a bad senior class or bad leadership as the reason.

"It's been a tough season for everybody. We've got a lot of young guys on the team and not a lot of seniors," Fifita said. "A lot of seniors are taking the blame for everything, but it's been hard for everybody."

As such, there's still important business on the table. "Senior Day," thus, is taking a back seat on the priority chart.

"Every game is just like the next, so it hasn't hit me yet," Fifita said. "There's too much work to be done on Saturday. (New Mexico) is a good team, so I can't let (Senior Day) distract me at all."

Whittingham is confident it won't. He lists his final game as a player at BYU — a win over Utah — as one he remembers most.

On Saturday, several key contributors including Boone and Fifita, as well as tackles leader Spencer Toone, receiver John Madsen and kicker Dan Beardall, will be honored with their families before the game.

Each is deserving, Whittingham noted.

"They've been through some highs and lows this year," he said. "There's been a lot of bumps in the road, but they've been very resilient. They've handled adversity well."

Concluding their careers at a bowl game, the coach continued, would provide a fitting finish.

"We played our best football of the season last Saturday. If we can continue that, it'll be great," Whittingham said. "I'm very proud of our senior class. I'm going to miss them. There's a lot of guys in that class that it'll be hard to say goodbye to."


Utes on the air

New Mexico (5-4, 3-3) at Utah (5-4, 3-3)

Saturday, 4:30 p.m.

TV: Ch. 14

Radio: 700AM


Utah's senior class

Players to be honored before their final home game Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Kite Afeaki, DL *

Dan Beardall, K

Jesse Boone, OL

Bryan Borreson, K

Kawika Casco, LB

Brock Condie, SN

David Dirkmaat, OL

Steve Fifita, DL

Quinton Ganther, RB

Stephen Gordon, DB

Tim Harris, DB

Chad Jacobsen, TE

Andrew Johnson, OL

Travis LaTendresse, WR

Marquess Ledbetter, DL *

John Madsen, WR

Grady Marshall, LB

Eugene Oates, DB

Darryl Poston, RB *

Willie Sao, TE

Charlie TeGantvoort, LB

Spencer Toone, LB

Dymond Unutoa, DB

Justin Walker, WR *

Antonio Young, DB

* Plans to appeal to the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility.


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com