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Blaze picked to make playoffs

Early predictions high on Utah’s chances in expansion season

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As an expansion team in the Arena Football League, the Utah Blaze can't be expected to be a playoff contender.

Or can they?

In the Arena Football League 2006 Season Preview Magazine (on newsstands now), seven media "experts" are asked to predict the division winners and the other playoff teams. Of those experts, three — Jenn Boehm of arenafootball.com, Glenn Parker of NBC Sports and Mike Neu, the head coach of the New Orleans AFL team that is taking a year off due to Hurricane Katrina — select the Blaze to make the playoffs this season.

The AFL features 18 teams — 12 of which will earn a trip to the postseason.

Expansion teams doing well right off the bat have proven to be possible in the AFL. New Orleans, for example, was an expansion team in 2004 when it won its division with an 11-5 mark.

"A lot of people in the league will be surprised by what we put out there on the field," predicted Blaze offensive specialist Siaha Burley, who caught a league-high 45 touchdown passes last season for the Arizona Rattlers. "We're young on defense, but we have a lot of good athletes."

Burley was voted by the AFL writers as the league's offensive player of the year last season.

ON TO NASHVILLE: With two weeks remaining before the season opener on Jan. 28 in San Jose, Blaze coach Danny White and his staff are busy evaluating talent. The team currently has 37 members. Only 24 will be around when the season starts.

So like a young country-music hopeful, the Blaze are headed to Nashville.

In an attempt to get a better idea how his players would do against AFL competition, the Blaze flew to Tennessee on Sunday. They will practice with — and scrimmage against — the AFL's Nashville Kats today, Tuesday and Wednesday before returning to Salt Lake City on Thursday.

White has called the practices in Nashville the most important of training camp.

HOT ITEMS: Team officials were pleased with the estimated crowd of 2,500 that showed up to the team's "fanfest" last Thursday in the Delta Center. Better still, the team has sold more than 7,000 season tickets. Individual game tickets are now on sale. The home opener will be Feb. 4 against the Dallas Desperadoes — a team owned by Cowboys owner Jerry Jones . . . White, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, has a long history in the AFL. He coached the Arizona Rattlers for 13 years, taking his team to five ArenaBowls and winning two of them. He left the Rattlers prior to last season before getting back into the league this year as the Blaze coach and general manager. The AFL is in its 20th year of existence . . . While Burley is the biggest star on the Blaze team, the team has another experienced player who has had big success in the league. Steve Videtich is a two-time Kicker of the Year in the league.

E-mail: lojo@desnews.com