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Can the Utes combat hype as camp opens?

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham answers questions during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Wednesday, July 24, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham answers questions during the Pac-12 Conference NCAA college football Media Day Wednesday, July 24, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah opens camp with something new this season: The Utes are carrying the added weight of extremely high expectations. They’ve been picked to win both the Pac-12 South and the conference championship game this season.

Lofty may be an understatement when it comes to preseason prognostications.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham noted that there’s two sides to it. The positive aspect includes being a real accolade for the players and their level of ability. As for the negative, that comes from reading too much into the predictions.

“We know it's not going to do anything for us during the season as far as helping us win a game,” Whittingham said of the forecasted success. “All it can do is get us sidetracked if we let it during our preparation.”

Thus the Utes are determined to handle things the right way and keep it all positive. Even so, there will be constant reminders in the form of media interviews throughout camp.

Entering Wednesday’s opener, though, there are other inquiries that need answering as preparation for the upcoming season gets under way. Whittingham noted some of them at Pac-12 Media Day. First of all, he discussed filling vacancies on the offensive line.

“We came out of spring with three guys that we know are going to play for us, but we've got to find seven or eight guys that are going to be in that rotation up front. So those questions have to be answered during fall camp,” he said.

Another area of concern is on special teams.

“We don't know right now who our placekicker is going to be. It's been a lot of years since that's been a question mark,” Whittingham said. “So hopefully we come away with a kid that can get the job done. We're confident that'll happen.”

Freshman walk-on Jadon Redding and UCLA graduate transfer Andrew Strauch were the kickers on Utah’s roster over the summer.

As always, camp is loaded with storylines. For the Utes, there’s the return of offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig — calling the shots up on the hill for the first time since the 2009 Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.

“We think we're going to hopefully take a step forward this year offensively,” Whittingham said. “Getting Andy Ludwig back as our coordinator is a big plus. He's a proven commodity.”

Whittingham added that the players really embraced what Ludwig brought to the table in spring ball in terms of schematics and the way he operates.

“Right now we've got great buy-in and they believe in what he's doing,” Whittingham said.

Offensive improvement will compliment a defense that is drawing a lot of preseason praise, led by All-America candidates Bradlee Anae, Leki Fotu and Jaylon Johnson — plus a wealth of depth.

Utah’s season kicks off Aug. 29 at BYU.

“Football is here,” Whittingham said. “It’s time to get going.”