SALT LAKE CITY - Athlon College Football predicts the Utah football team will finish second in the Mountain West Conference in 2008 and ranks the Utes No. 33 in the nation in its annual preseason edition.
The publication also selected Utah as the No. 3 non-BCS team in the nation and chose senior punter/kicker Louie Sakoda as its second-team All-America punter. Athlon ranked Utah's offensive line as the best in the MWC, while Utah's quarterbacks and defensive backs were rated second.
Athlon named six Utes as preseason first-team all-MWC picks: Robert Conley (Sr., OL), Paul Kruger (So., DL), Brice McCain (Sr., DB) and Sakoda (Sr., P/K) were all honored as first-team selections. Second-team distinction went to Brian Johnson (Sr., QB), Darrell Mack (Sr., RB), Brent Casteel (Sr., WR), Zane Beadles (Jr., OL), Koa Misi (Jr. DL) and Stevenson Sylvester (Jr., LB). Ute third-teamers were Caleb Schlauderaff (So., OL) and Jereme Brooks (So., PR).
In addition, Mack was recognized as the league's top returning rusher. Last year, Mack came out of a redshirt season to rush for 1,204 yards. The 6-0, 220-pounder had six 100-yard games, and he averaged 100.3 yards per outing.
Utah had six incoming recruits ranked in Athlon's MWC top 20. The headliner was freshman defensive lineman Dave Kruger at No. 4. Also cited were Sausan Shakerin (RB, No.5), Luke Matthews (WR, No. 7), Sam Brenner (OL, No. 12), Ryan Lacy (WR, No. 17) and Derek Tuimauga (OL, No. 19).
Sakoda's honor is the latest in a growing list. The dual punter/kicker, who won All-America honors at both positions as a junior last year, has already earned preseason All-America honors in Phil Steele's 2008 College Football Preview, and he's been named to the Ray Guy Award preseason watch list, which honors the top punter in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
Last year, Sakoda won two First-Team All-America honors (Football Writers Association of America and CBSSports.com) as a punter, and one (Rivals.com) as a kicker. He is a two-time Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Year honoree (2006-07), and he enters this season in the top five in nine career categories at Utah. Among those, he is currently first place in career field goal percentage (.833).