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SALT LAKE CITY — With four weeks until the season opener, the University of Utah football team is already earning national recognition.
The Utes are ranked No. 25 in the preseason Coaches Poll that came out Thursday, dropping four spots from last season’s final poll.
“It’s a show of respect for our guys,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham, whose team remains one of five in the country ranked in every College Football Playoff poll.
“When you take that big of a hit as we did to the NFL, and still come away in the preseason Top 25, that shows respect,” he added.
The NFL draft dug a deep hole into Utah’s roster, as the program had the fourth-most players selected in the country. A school record eight Utes were drafted into the NFL, plus a handful of others were signed as undrafted free agents. Overall, the Utes lost 13 starters from last season and are left with 12 returning starters — five on offense, six on defense and their punter.
Whittingham and company has relied heavily on recruiting to fill the team’s voids and he hopes the program has recruited “the right way.”
The country seems to believe the team has done a good job bringing in new talent a la the rankings, including fellow Pac-12 coaches. Athlon Sports asked the league’s coaches to anonymously talk about their opponents. Most had positive things to say about the Utes and think they’re “going to be good.”
"I think Coach Whittingham does an unbelievable job getting them ready to play every Saturday. You can tell they’re tough kids who are coached hard, and I respect a coach like that," one Pac-12 coach said.
"They try to take away what you do best, and they’re very, very mentally tough," said another.
The league’s media also picked Utah to finish second in the Pac-12 South behind USC, which was chosen to win the Pac-12 championship against Washington.
Whittingham attributes the positive acknowledgment to those understanding how talented Utah’s recruits are.
“I think people recognize we have good athletes in the program, even though they don’t have a lot of experience. It’s their time to shine and we have a lot of guys who are going to have their opportunity this year,” he said
Time will tell if Utah’s preseason hype stays true, though. Utah's first game is against North Dakota on Thursday, Aug. 31.