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Utah Utes football: Same approach

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham insists nothing has changed up on the hill.

Last season's success — which includes a 13-0 record, a win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and No. 2 national ranking — hasn't altered the program's expectations.

"It didn't change a thing," said Whittingham, who noted that the Utes have the same objective every season.

"Win the Mountain West Conference. That's our primary goal. When it comes right down to it that's the only thing that we really have complete control over," he explained. "Everything else you're at the mercy of voters and that type of thing. So we just try to go out and play our best football each week."

Continual improvement and avoiding a flat game, Whittingham added, are all part of the quest to win the conference championship.

The Utes open this season with the nation's longest win streak. They've won 14 straight games dating back to the 2007 Poinsettia Bowl.

"It's good. I think it's a positive for our guys. It's something they can be proud of," Whittingham said. "We don't dwell on it. We talk about it very little. But if someone's going to have the nation's longest winning streak we'd certainly want it to be us."

The only undefeated team in the nation last season enters the upcoming campaign with a few changes — three new assistant coaches, including two new coordinators, and an altered roster.

Utah had four players drafted by the NFL (Freddie Brown, Paul Kruger, Brice McCain, Sean Smith) and must also replace All-America kicker/punter Louie Sakoda and Sugar Bowl MVP Brian Johnson.

"Each year is its own set of circumstances," said Whittingham, who promoted staffers Dave Schramm and Kalani Sitake to coordinator posts. John Pease (assistant head coach/defensive line), Blake Miller (offensive line) and J.D. Williams (cornerbacks) were brought in to fill vacancies.

Whittingham acknowledges there are a lot of similarities to Utah's first trip to the Bowl Championship Series.

"But I think we have a lot more going for us this year than we did in '05," he said. "We didn't have as much turnover on the coaching staff (eight left following the Fiesta Bowl appearance) ... and I believe we have a more talented roster from top to bottom than we did in '05."

Headlined by several preseason all-conference honorees — linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, defensive end Koa Misi, free safety Robert Johnson, running back Matt Asiata and left tackle Zane Beadles — Utah enters the season ranked in the top 20 in both major polls. The Utes are 18th in the USA Today coaches rankings and 19th in the AP Top 25.

The early accolades, though, haven't changed the team's approach under Whittingham.

"The same ultimate goal is to win the Mountain West Conference championship. Some years you've got a better shot than others," Whittingham said while noting that returning personnel and experience coming back keep things in flux. "But hopefully, if you recruited well enough, you are never going to have a big drop-off."

Injuries and other variables, he noted, can also factor into the equation. Recruiting, though, can negate some of that.

"If you recruit year in and year out like you're supposed to do you should not have gigantic peaks and valleys," Whittingham said.

The Utes were picked to finish third in the MWC's preseason media poll. A challenging road schedule has them playing pivotal league games at both BYU and TCU. The preseason schedule includes a trip to projected Pac-10 contender Oregon and a home date with Louisville.

Longest active winning streaks in Division I

Utah 14

Florida 10

USC 10

Rice 7

Rutgers 7

Mississippi 6

Southern Miss. 5