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Ratliff named Utes’ starting quarterback

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And the winner is ... Brett Ratliff.

The senior, who quarterbacked Utah to victories over BYU and Georgia Tech last season, will be the Utes' starter in the Sept. 2 season opener at UCLA.

Ratliff won a camp battle with Oklahoma transfer Tommy Grady for the starting job.

"It was a close call. Both of them are excellent quarterbacks," said head coach Kyle Whittingham. "Both are certainly worthy of starting at the Division I level."

Three factors, he explained, weighed heavily in the decision.

Ratliff's performance in his two starts last season.

Ratliff's lack of turnovers in camp.

Ratliff's ability to move the first-team offense and get into the end zone.

"That's really what it came down to. Not that Tommy did a bad job by any means," said Whittingham. "But Brett did a little bit better job running the first-team offense as far as those three factors."

Ratliff and Grady were informed of the coaching staff's decision at a quarterback meeting Tuesday night. The official announcement was made Wednesday morning.

"They were very professional. Our quarterbacks are mature beyond their years and they understand the situation," said Whittingham. "Everybody's good with it. We're all in the same camp and all moving in the same direction."

Whittingham described the situation as a prize fight where the champion — in this case Ratliff the incumbent — had to be clearly beaten.

"Brett did edge out Tommy in fall camp," he said. "It's not that Tommy edged him out and we were just going with Brett because it wasn't by enough.

"In order for Tommy to unseat Brett he would have had to play much better than Brett during fall camp," Whittingham continued.

Grady, however, may still be in Utah's plans.

"There's no question he's more than capable of playing. It's a luxury that we have," said Whittingham, who is opposed to using any type of platoon system. "It's not a split decision, but Tommy is very capable."

Capable enough to make a cameo appearance against the Bruins?

"That's for us to know," said Whittingham. "We have that luxury with an exceptional No. 2 quarterback waiting in the wings."

Grady, a junior who hasn't played in a game in 19 months, has two years to play after transferring to Utah from Oklahoma.

Third candidate Brian Johnson, who started the first 10 games of 2005, pulled out of the Utes' starting quarterback competition last week in favor a medical redshirt — giving his surgically repaired left knee more time to heal.

E-mail: dirk@desnews.com