We never pay any attention to it. As I say every year, that’s not something that we put any emphasis on, or any of that stuff. – Kyle Whittingham
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — It wasn’t exactly a first is worst, second the same, third the best of all the game moment.
However, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham found a silver lining of sorts in where the Utes were picked to finish in the annual Pac-12 football preseason poll. They’re tabbed for third — behind UCLA and USC and ahead of Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado — after a vote by 33 members of the media covering the conference.
“Well, I guess it’s better than four, five or six. But it’s still, obviously, speculation and just in good fun trying to prognosticate,” Whittingham said. “We never pay any attention to it. As I say every year, that’s not something that we put any emphasis on, or any of that stuff.”
Whittingham, who is joined at Pac-12 Media Days by offensive lineman J.J. Dielman and nickelback Justin Thomas, didn’t totally dismiss it as the event kicked off at Hollywood & Highland.
“It’s nice to be recognized,” Whittingham acknolwdged. “I guess that’s somewhat a show of respect, I guess you could say.”
Dielman didn’t care for the third-place prediction. Utah was picked fifth in the Pac-12 South last season and wound up in a first-place tie with USC.
“What else is new when it comes to these polls and Utah not being at the top?” Dielman said. “So it’s the usual stuff. We don’t even worry about it.”
Thomas offered a different take.
“We’ve got some work to do,” he said. “That’s what it means.”
When it comes to the bottom line, though, Thomas had similar thoughts to Whittingham and Dielman about the poll.
“It’s just assumptions and stuff like that,” Thomas said. “So I don’t think it matters.”
Utah returns 14 starters from last year’s squad that finished 10-3 overall and 6-3 in Pac-12 play. In the preseason poll released Thursday, The Utes received two first-place votes and was the pick of the team to win the Pac-12 Championship Game.
This year’s projection ends a run of three consecutive fifth-place forecasts for Utah. The Utes were picked third and second, respectively, in 2011 and 2012.
“As a football team, we think we’re in a lot better place right now,” Whittingham said as he began his remarks to the media from the stage. “We know we’re a lot better right now than we were when we first entered the league as far as even play field and being able to compete and have some success in the Pac-12 Conference.”
The biggest going into this season, he continued, is getting the quarterback situation resolved. Troy Williams, Brandon Cox and Tyler Huntley will be on equal footing for the job when camp opens in August.
How the battle turns out, Whittingham added, will be the key to Utah’s season.
Stanford with Heisman Trophy finalist Christian McCaffrey is tabbed as the team to beat in the Pac-12. The North Division favorites received 20 votes to win the title in the preseason poll — well ahead of USC (5), Washington (4), UCLA (3) and Utah.
The Cardinal were the top choice of the media for the first time in the 56-year history of the vote. They received 24 first-place votes in the North and were followed in order by Washington, Oregon, Washington State, California and Oregon State.