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Utah football notebook: Preseason rankings may not matter, but they sure do feel good

Utah cornerback Boobie Hobbs, left, intercepts a pass intended for wide receiver Josh Nurse during the Utes' practice on Monday, July 31, 2017, in Salt Lake City.
Utah cornerback Boobie Hobbs, left, intercepts a pass intended for wide receiver Josh Nurse during the Utes' practice on Monday, July 31, 2017, in Salt Lake City.
Brandon Judd,

SALT LAKE CITYMost coaches don’t think much of preseason rankings.

But for Utah, a team that has been consistently underrated and overlooked, starting the 2017 season ranked No. 25 is a welcome acknowledgment of the program’s progress.

“I think it’s a show of respect,” said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. “When you take as big a hit as we did to the NFL, to still come away in the Top 25, that’s a show of respect. It doesn’t hold much water because you’ve still got to play the game.” Utah had eight players drafted in the 2017 NFL draft, including four offensive linemen, while several others signed free-agency deals.

So the fact that the preseason coaches poll as Utah at No. 25 was a welcome change from the way the Utes have been overlooked in the past.

“There are a lot of holes to fill,” Whittingham said. “But we hopefully have recruited the right way, and we’ve got some good athletes in the program, even though they haven’t got a lot of experience.” He said those players have worked very hard for the opportunity to validate any preseason expectations, and the alternative is to continue to be an afterthought. “It’s certainly better than not being ranked,” he said.

NO SCRIMMAGE

The Utes started camp a little more than a week earlier thanks to new NCAA rules.

And while that’s helped coaches assess and develop the team’s new talent, it also means they won’t scrimmage this weekend.

“It’s a marathon, not a (sprint),” Whittingham said. “We’ll have five solid weeks of camp, and we want to gauge it so we peak at the right time. This is all new territory.” Coaches discussed the extra time offered to programs and decided that only the third-string players might scrimmage this early.

“We’ve been thinking it over more, had extensive meetings, and we think it’s too early to scrimmage,” Whittingham said. “We may go live with the young guys to see what we’ve got.”

INJURY AT CENTER

Utah’s offensive line may have lost one of three players with significant experience. Lo Falemaka left the field with the help of his teammates during Thursday’s practice.

“We’re just hoping for the best,” Whittingham said when asked about it. “We’ll see what the doctors say.”

Paul Toala, a redshirt sophomore, was listed as No. 2 on the depth chart before camp began, and he was one of two players Whittingham mentioned as possible replacements if Falemaka is out for any length of time. The other was Johnny Capra, a sophomore, who was listed as No. 2 on the depth chart at left tackle.