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Pac-12 notes: Utes picked to finish second in the South Division

Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham instructs his team during practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 30, 2018. All four of the major publications — Phil Steele's College Football Preview, Athlon, Lindy’s and Street & Smith’s —
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham yells to his team practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 30, 2018.
Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — For the third time in eight years, Utah has been picked to finish second in the Pac-12 South. The conference unveiled its annual preseason poll at Pac-12 Media Day at Hollywood & Highland. The survey of broadcasters and sports writers predict Utah to finish behind USC this season. The Trojans were the top choice in the division, netting 22 first-place votes and 225 points in the poll. The Utes wound up with 14 first-place votes and 209 points.

“We think we’ve got some things going for us, coming back this year. You never know exactly how things are going to play out,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “But we feel like we’re well situated at a lot of positions.”

Whittingham, though, added that there are still some question marks at a few. Finding those solutions, he explained, is far more important than analyzing poll results.

“As always we don’t pay much attention to that,” Whittingham said. “You go out and play the games and see where you stand.”

Although Utah has never topped the preseason media poll, the Utes have now been picked second three times (2012, 2017 and 2018).

“It’s a show of respect, I would say,” Whittingham continued. “So we’ll take it as a positive.”

Center Lo Falemaka noted that the Utes relish the opportunity to not be the preseason favorites.

“We’re always going to be the underdogs, no matter what. It’s just that much more rewarding when we do actually win and when we do prove people wrong,” he said. “So all of this doesn’t really matter to me. Just as long as we go out there and do our best, perform and beat all these teams we’ll be straight.”

As for his own prognostication, Falemaka is confident the Utes will finish on top and win their first outright Pac-12 South title.

“Yes, sir. Personally I believe that,” he said. “But anything can happen.”

USC and Utah were followed in the poll by Arizona, UCLA, Colorado and Arizona State.

“I feel like preseason stuff never matters, preseason everything,” said linebacker Chase Hansen, who acknowledged that there’s some value to speculation. “It’s always interesting because obviously we have a certain idea of who we are and what we’re going to be.”

EXTRA POINTS: Washington was tabbed as the favorite to win the Pac-12 title. The Huskies received 37 of 42 votes in the annual preseason media poll . . . Commissioner Larry Scott said that the conference has committed $3.6 million per year to the Pac-12’s Student-Athlete Health and Well-Being Initiative since it was established in 2013 . . . Utah players report for camp on July 31. The first practice is set for Aug. 1.