Almost all of the preseason talk about potential "BCS busters" focused on Boise State and TCU. But Utah has been the nation's premier non-BCS program, and it looks poised for another great season after opening with a victory over Pittsburgh.
Credit coach Kyle Whittingham. Since the start of the BCS era in 1998, the Utes have won 20 games against Big Six conference foes, the most of any non-Big Six school in the nation. Utah also is 2-0 in BCS bowl games. Want more? Utah's nine-game bowl win streak is the longest active string in the nation and is tied for the second-longest of all time.
Whittingham, a former All-WAC linebacker at archrival BYU, which he attended from 1978-81, has had a hand in all of the success.
He first joined the staff as defensive line coach in 1994 under Ron McBride. He became defensive coordinator the next season and retained the role when Urban Meyer was coach from 2003-04.
Whittingham, 50, took over the program after Meyer left in 2005 and has forged a 48-17 record. The past three seasons have been especially bountiful, as the Utes have gone 32-7. The highlight was the 2008 season, when Utah finished 13-0, beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and were ranked No. 2 in the final AP poll.
Utah is 1-0 after scoring perhaps the most impressive season-opening victory of any team in the nation with a 27-24 overtime win over Pitt. From there, the Utes' schedule sets up for a possible 7-0 start before a season-defining three-game set that has a trip to Air Force, a visit from TCU and a game at Notre Dame.
Rivals.com caught up with Whittingham as he prepared to play host to UNLV this Saturday, and he commented on a variety of topics, from things his team must improve on to Meyer's health to the possible advent of the "super conferences."
Is your team upset over seemingly being overlooked this season?
"That's how we like it. We don't mention it to our team. We don't worry about anything that we can't control. We can control going out and playing our best football every week. We don't use that other stuff as a motivational tool or anything of that sort. We are just going about our business."
What does this team need to work on?
"We have to be more efficient in the red zone, that's for sure. The turnovers have to be eliminated. We can't get away with three turnovers every week, which is what we had vs. Pitt. And we had far too many penalties . Those are the three primary areas that need to be addressed."
Which position still needs to develop the most?
"I think the receivers are still a work in progress. DeVonte Christopher stepped up and had a big night for us vs. Pitt [eight catches for 155 yards and a touchdown]. He's a guy we converted from quarterback a few years ago, and he has done a nice job. But we still need some development to take place."
Do you think that this could end up being one of your better teams?
"Too early to tell. We have a lot of promising young players that we really like, but I still think it's too early to determine."
Some say sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn [283 yards and three scores vs. Pitt] may be the next Alex Smith. Do you think that's true?
"It probably is too early to say that. He is a guy we have a lot of confidence in. He has a great upside and we are excited about the future with him."
What do you like most about Wynn?
"He has that 'it' factor, those intangibles that you look for as far as the way he carries himself, his leadership, just the way the players around him respond."
This will be Utah's final season in the Mountain West before joining the Pac-10. What will you miss about the league?
"The old WAC, which essentially is the Mountain West -- we have been a part of this league for a lot of years. The history, the rivalries -- especially the BYU rivalry. We hope to be able to continue it. And we have had some good series with Air Force, Wyoming … just missing the games that we have played for so many years."
What do you think of BYU's decision to go independent?
"I really haven't had much thought on it, as we have been wrapped up in what we are doing. They obviously feel they are doing what they think is in their best interest."
With Utah off to the Pac-10 and BYU becoming an independent, will the "Holy War" series end?
"I don't think there is that chance, but I don't think I'm the guy who can answer that definitively. It is such a heated rivalry for so many years, I cannot see it going away. But scheduling conflicts … it won't be the same as it has been.
"I don't think it will be the last game of the year, and it will be played in a different time slot as far as when we play them during the year. But from what I gather, the schools are committed to keep it going."
How do you see all of this conference realignment shaking out?
"I think what we have seen is just the tip of the iceberg. Much more will take place in the next few years. The so-called 'super conferences' are what I think are on the horizon."
Is Utah ready to compete in the Pac-10?
"We don't even address that. We have made a rule in our building that all we are worried or concerned about is the upcoming opponent. It is taboo to talk about anything else."
Have you seen any benefit from news of the move to the Pac-10?
"Within 10 days of the announcement, we got seven commitments. That right there, I think, says it all on the impact that it has had so far."
Do you need any facility improvements as you look to the future?
"We will redo our football complex. It is on the drawing board and will be done in the next few years. After that, stadium expansion has been a topic, but that isn't as immediate as the football facility."
You and Florida coach Urban Meyer are great friends. How often do you talk?
"We touch base every week or so."
Given the issues he has had with his health, has that caused you to examine your lifestyle?
"I think all head coaches try to achieve some type of balance. That's easier said than done. It's easy to become completely immersed in what you are doing. That's the nature of the business. I think all head coaches try to guard against becoming so one-dimensional that it starts having an impact on health and those types of things. My outlet are workouts. I lift once a week, and the other days are devoted to an aerobic activity."
Would you like to finish your career at Utah?
"It's a great place to work and I get asked that question often. I think this is one of the best jobs in the country. But this profession is so volatile, so you never know what's on the horizon. But I can say without a doubt that I am very happy here."
Are you interested in coaching in the NFL?
"My dad [Fred] was an NFL guy [an assistant with the Rams and Raiders]. It always has intrigued me. I have friends in the NFL, like Andy Reid with the Eagles. … So, who knows, maybe down the road."