Patrick Kinahan: BYU, Utah football share similar goals but varied expectations

Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Keanu Hill (1) celebrates a long catch setting up a Cougar score as BYU and Utah play an NCAA football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Keanu Hill (1) celebrates a long catch setting up a Cougar score as BYU and Utah play an NCAA football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. (Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah and BYU football programs both enter the season with the same goals as most teams, but the similarities stop once outside expectations are included.

For the Utes, the minimum is to repeat as Pac-12 champions with another appearance in the Rose Bowl. The ceiling is to qualify for the four-team national playoff and even, we dare say, make the championship game.

The Cougars also eye another double-digit win total, which would be their third consecutive, but there's no talk of making a national splash beyond creeping into the Top 25 rankings. The expectation outside the program is a for decent season capped by the usual appearance in a low-profile bowl game.

So, which level of hype is better three weeks before kickoff: relatively modest expectations or hanging with the same company as Ohio State, Alabama and Georgia? Each might be appropriate for both programs.

Coming off the program's first-ever Pac-12 championship, Utah's aspiration is at an all-time high. The annual preseason Coaches Poll released Monday slots the Utes at No. 8, which is their highest ever.

In line with the ranking, Utah was also picked to win the Pac-12 again in the conference poll released late last month. Fellow conference opponents Oregon checked in at No. 12, followed by USC at 15.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has a well-earned reputation for relishing the underdog role but forget about that this season. Returning the bulk of the team, led by quarterback Cam Rising, squashed any dark-horse spin.

"You've got to just embrace (high expectations)," Whittingham said. "They are there and there's no hiding from them — just meet them head on and understand that we're getting a lot of national attention. We've got to be mature enough to handle it and continue to go about our business the right way and not think that we've got all the right answers."

Going into the season, oddsmakers put Utah as one of only a handful of teams expected to be favored in every game. Oregon and USC are the only ranked teams in the Coaches Poll on Utah's schedule going into the season.

As a team, the Utes are looking at taking the deserved attention up another level. It's not enough to be simply respected, a philosophy receiver Devaughn Vele said Whittingham is endorsing.

"Now that we're respected, now we need people to fear us," said Vele. "I feel that's the drive helping everybody on the team right now to make those strides and make those changes that we need to be that team that is feared."

For a team that has won a total of 21 games over the last two seasons, BYU, arguably, is not getting enough respect. Not that the Cougars are complaining.

Remember, coach Kalani Sitake's served as Whittingham's defensive coordinator at Utah and counts him as a mentor. He's content to let Utah hog most of the local attention and not garner much national respect going into the season.

Like their rival, the Cougars return a standout quarterback in Jaren Hall. They also return a solid group of veterans at all the skill positions and go at least eight deep across the offensive line.

"I believe the sky is the limit," Hall told reporters after last week's first practice. "We have the potential to have a really good season, as a team."

Going into the program's final season as an independent, BYU could end up with its toughest schedule since leaving the Mountain West after 2010. Opponents ranked in the Coaches Poll include No. 5 Notre Dame, future Big 12 mate No. 10 Baylor, No. 12 Oregon and No. 23 Arkansas.

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Patrick is a radio host for 97.5/1280 The Zone and the Zone Sports Network. He, along with David James, are on the air Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.

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