Kyle Whittingham and two of his senior stars will be in San Diego Monday and Tuesday for the MWC Media Preview.
July 14, 2006
UTES AT THE MWC MEDIA PREVIEW
Representing Utah at the Mountain West Conference Football Preview in San Diego, July 16-18, will be Head Coach Kyle Whittingham, senior defensive back Eric Weddle and senior offensive lineman Tavo Tupola. Whittingham spearheaded a 7-5 record and an Emerald Bowl victory over Georgia Tech as a first-year Utah head coach. Weddle and Tupola are all-conference returners--Weddle first team and Tupola second team. Both have been cited in several preseason publications, with Weddle earning All-America recognition.
Utah's two players attending the Mountain West Football Preview have both started since their freshman season and are projected as first-team all-MWC players as seniors this fall.
Eric Weddle (6-0, 200, Sr.), the reigning MWC Defensive Player of the Year, a first-team all-conference DB and the Emerald Bowl Defensive Player of the Game, might be the best overall player in the MWC. The Alta Loma, Calif., native will play strong safety and corner--the former when Utah is in its 4-3 package and the latter when the Utes go with the nickel. He led the MWC a year ago in passes defended (16) and his 11 tackles for loss ranked seventh in the MWC. He totaled 78 tackles and forced three fumbles in 2005. He has 11 career interceptions. Weddle is also Utah's starting punt returner, holds for the field goal team and plays safety on the kickoff coverage teams. He played some at quarterback in the Emerald Bowl.
Tavo Tupola (6-4, 300, Sr.), Utah's starting left tackle since he was a redshirt freshman in 2003, was second-team all-MWC a year ago. The Kahuku, Hawaii, native signed with the Utes as a safety out of high school and grew to offensive tackle proportions while serving an LDS church mission to Tucson, Ariz., from 2000-02.
Kyle Whittingham is preparing for his second year as Utah's head coach and his 13th year overall. Whittingham became Utah's head coach in December of 2004 after a 10-year stint as the Ute defensive coordinator. He served as the defensive line coach in 1994. During that 12-year span, Utah has gone 93-46, played in seven bowl games (winning six) and won or tied for four conference titles. The 2005 Utes led the Mountain West Conference in total offense (12th in the nation) and finished second in total defense.
PRESEASON CAMP SCHEDULE
Players report for camp on Sunday, Aug. 6 and the first practice is slated for Monday, Aug. 7. Preseason camp will consist of 19 total practices/scrimmages, held Monday-Saturday. The first double-day session is Saturday, Aug. 12, with a scrimmage serving as the afternoon practice. From then on, double-days will be held every other day until camp concludes on Aug. 22 and regular season practices commence. Classes at the U. start on Wednesday, Aug. 23. Scrimmages are planned for Aug. 12, 17 and 22. Practice times will be announced when preseason camp approaches. The preseason camp will be held on Ute Baseball Field. Practices will move to the McCarthey Practice Fields on Aug. 23.
OUT OF THE GATES
For the third straight year, Utah will open its season with a nationally-televised game against a BCS opponent on September 2. In this year's opener, Utah will play UCLA starting at 4 p.m. Pacific Time in the Rose Bowl--a game that will be televised nationally on Fox Sports Network. In the 2004 and `05 season-openers, Utah beat Texas A&M (41-21) and Arizona (27-24), respectively, before ESPN audiences.
The Utes are promised at least three nationally-televised games this season on CSTV, with at least one more game a strong possibility. Prearranged CSTV games include TCU on Oct. 5, UNLV on Oct. 28 and Brigham Young on Nov. 25. The Utah-Air Force game is currently listed as either a nationally-televised contest on CSTV or a regionally-televised affair on The mtn. The Utes are locked into four regional appearances on The mtn. (Sept. 23 vs. San Diego State, Oct. 14 vs. Wyoming, Oct. 19 vs. New Mexico and Nov. 11 vs. Colorado State). The Northern Arizona game on Sept. 9 and the Boise State game on Sept. 30 will appear on some segment of The mtn.'s distribution platform to be determined (e.g. TV, broadband video, wireless and/or pay-per-view).
PRESEASON TOP 25
Utah is ranked in the top 25 in at least five preseason publications:
No. 15 - Lindy's Sports Annuals
No. 21 - Gold Sheet
No. 23 - Phil Steele's College Football Preview
No. 23 - Athlon
No. 25 - Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook
Several preseason publications have the Utes contending for the 2006 MWC championship. They include:
No. 1 - Gold Sheet
No. 1 - Phil Steele's College Football Preview
No. 1 - Lindy's Sports Annuals
No. 2 - CBS Sportsline.com
Ute senior defensive back Eric Weddle (6-0, 200), the 2005 MWC Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team all-conference pick, is on everyone's 2006 preseason all-conference team, as well as on several All-America teams and watch lists.
A sampling of Weddle's preseason accolades follows:
Athlon, The Sporting News, CBS Sportsline.com, Rivals.com (second team), Phil Steele's (fourth team), Street & Smith's (honorable mention).
Weddle's Preseason Ratings
Bruce Feldman (ESPN.com): Top 12 defenders in the nation Lindy's Player Rankings: No. 5 safety in the nation Lindy's MWC Top 10 NFL Talent: No. 3 CollegeFootballNews.com Top 30 MWC Players: No. 1 Lindy's MWC Honor Roll: Best Cover Man
Lott Trophy, Bronko Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik
All-Mountain West Conference
Athlon, The Sporting News (Defensive Player of the Year), Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook (Defensive Player of the Year), Street & Smith's, CollegeFootballNews.com (Defensive Player of the Year), Phil Steele's College Football Preview, CBS Sportsline.com (Defensive MVP), Lindy's (Defensive Player of the Year).
BEST OF THE REST
Along with Weddle, several other Utes have been singled out by the preseason publications. The most prominently mentioned of those follow:
Tavo Tupola, OL (6-3, 300, Sr.)
Outland Trophy Watch List, Athlon, Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, Street & Smith's, CollegeFootballNews.com, CBS Sportsline.com, Lindy's, Phil Steele's College Football Preview (second team). Tupola was also cited as the 28th-best MWC player by CollegeFootballNews.com.
Casey Evans, DB (6-0, 200, Sr.)
Athlon, Street & Smith's, CollegeFootballNews.com, CBS Sportsline.com, Lindy's, Phil Steele's College Football Preview (second team). Evans was rated as the 24th-best player in the MWC.
Brian Hernandez, WR (6-0, 175, Sr.)
The Sporting News, Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, Street & Smith's, CollegeFootballNews.com, Phil Steele's College Football Yearbook, CBS Sportsline.com, Lindy's.
Brent Casteel, WR/KR (5-10, 193, So.)
Street & Smith's (wide receiver, honorable mention), Athlon (kick returner), Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook (kick returner), Phil Steele's College Football Preview (kick returner), Lindy's (all-purpose, second team).
Kelly Talavou, DL (6-2, 310, Sr.)
Outland Trophy Watch List, Bronko Nagurski Award Watch List, Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, Phil Steele's College Football Preview, Lindy's CollegeFootballNews.com (second team), Athlon (second team).
Safety/cornerback Eric Weddle is Utah's only returning first-teamer. Weddle was also the 2005 MWC Defensive Player of the Year. Making the all-MWC second team a year ago were: defensive back/linebacker Casey Evans, quarterback Brian Johnson and offensive lineman Tavo Tupola.
CROWDED AT QUARTERBACK
Utah returns two starters and potential all-conference candidates at quarterback: Brian Johnson (6-1, 205, Jr.) and Brett Ratliff (6-4, 224, Sr.). One will redshirt--a decision that will be made during preseason camp. Johnson started the first 10 games before a season-ending ACL injury against New Mexico. He finished the year as the MWC's leader in total offense (No. 4 in the nation) and pass efficiency (No. 11 in the nation) and set several school single-game records. Ratliff replaced Johnson in the final two games of the season and led the Utes to impressive victories over Brigham Young (41-34, OT) and Georgia Tech (38-10 in the Emerald Bowl). In his two games as the starter, Ratliff completed 64-percent of his passes for 621 yards, 8 touchdowns and just one interception. He also rushed for 112 yards vs. BYU. Both players earned MWC Offensive Player of the Week honors: Johnson against Wyoming and Ratliff against BYU. They're not the only ones in the starting picture at QB. Tommy Grady (6-7, 235, Jr.) transferred from Oklahoma last August after playing in five games as Heisman Trophy winner Jason White's backup in 2004. Grady's experience, size and cannon arm combine to make him a legitimate starting candidate, as well. In the wings is talented redshirt freshman Kevin Dunn (6-3, 220).
ITEMS OF INTEREST
Utah must replace graduated 1,000-yard rusher Quinton Ganther. His pool of replacements is largely untested and combined for just 194 rushing yards in 2005. Winning the starting job in spring ball was senior Darryl Poston (5-11, 197). Poston has struggled with injuries since the start of his college career in 2001, when he played as a true freshman at USC. He received a medical extension from the NCAA, which allows him to play this fall. Poston's top contender is sophomore Darrell Mack (6-0, 216)--who ranked second of the running backs last year with 39 carries for 147 yards. Also in the mix is junior Mike Liti (5-10, 215), a part-time starter in 2003 ... Senior Casey Evans (6-0, 200), who was a second-team all-MWC free safety last fall, will start at linebacker when Utah opens in a 4-3 alignment. He will shift back to free safety--bumping Eric Weddle outside--when Utah is in the nickel package. Steve Tate (5-11, 200, Jr.) will start at free safety ... Utah boasts three all-conference candidates on its offensive line: senior left tackle Tavo Tupola (6-4, 300), junior right tackle Jason Boone (6-4, 300) and sophomore right guard Robert Conley (6-1, 310).
The Ute coaches expect to welcome 35 lettermen and 15 full or part-time starters back from last year's 7-5, Emerald Bowl championship team.
Six starters return for the offense: Jason Boone, OL (6-4, 300, Jr.); *Brent Casteel, WR (5-10, 193, So.); Robert Conley, OL (6-1, 310, So.); Brian Hernandez, WR (6-0, 175, Sr.); Brian Johnson, QB (6-1, 205, Jr.); *Derrek Richards, WR (5-11, 175, Jr.); Tavo Tupola, OL (6-3, 300, Sr.). *WRs Casteel and Richards each started 5 games in 2005.
Eight starters return for the defense: Kyle Brady, LB (6-1, 232, Jr.); Martail Burnett, DE (6-3, 252, Jr.); Casey Evans, DB (6-0, 200, Sr.); Joe Jiannoni, LB (6-1, 235, Jr.); Soli Lefiti, DL (6-4, 265, Sr.); Kelly Talavou, DL (6-2, 310, Sr.); Steve Tate, DB (5-11, 200, Jr.); Eric Weddle, DB (6-0, 200, Sr.). Twenty-five new scholarship athletes will join the team and 21 redshirts/transfers from 2005 will get their first opportunity at game time.
The Utes will have their television head shots taken on Aug. 11 from 2:00-3:30 p.m. in the Smith Athletics Center and they will be available for media interviews during that time.
Utah finished 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the MWC (tied for fourth). The Utes closed the season with a 38-10 victory over No. 24-ranked Georgia Tech. Other highlights included a stunning 41-34 overtime victory over BYU in Provo in the first NCAA start for then-junior quarterback Brett Ratliff. Ratliff also started and got the win against Georgia Tech in the Emerald Bowl. Defensive back Eric Weddle was named the MWC Defensive Player of the Year and the Emerald Bowl Defensive Player of the Game. Receiver Travis LaTendresse was named the Emerald Bowl Offensive Player of the Game.