Kyle Whittingham eager to see how good revamped football team is.

Aug. 30, 2005

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Kyle Whittingham is as eager as anybody to see how good Utah is this fall.

The Utes make their debut under Whittingham on Friday night against Arizona, and the new coach isn't quite sure what to expect.

"We have a lot of guys who have not been in that situation, and I'm just anxious to see how they react," Whittingham said Monday in his first weekly news conference of the season.

The Utes have only nine players who started the Fiesta Bowl victory over Pittsburgh - which capped a 12-0 season - returning this fall, leaving Whittingham a little uncertain of how long the school's 16-game winning streak could last.

Fall camp was positive, Whittingham said, and he's confident sophomore quarterback Brian Johnson can take over for Alex Smith, but he can only base so much on scrimmages.

It also will be the first time Whittingham, Utah's defensive coordinator for 10 years, is in charge of everything. The veteran assistant was promoted in December after Urban Meyer announced he was leaving for Florida. Meyer coached the Utes in the Fiesta Bowl, but Whittingham shared the title of coach.

"Technically, I guess I'm 1-0 after the Fiesta Bowl," he said jokingly. "Coaching football is coaching football. Whether you're making decisions on defense or you're making the decisions as the head coach. Game time is game time. I don't anticipate it being much different than what I was used to in the past."

But the preparation has been considerably different. Whittingham also took over administrative aspects of coaching he hadn't had to deal with before. The former Brigham Young linebacker is having to look at offense from another angle - not just stopping one.

"Before he was just completely defensive-minded all the time," linebacker Spencer Toone said. "It's just different to see him on both sides of the ball."

The two-time defending Mountain West Conference champion Utes aren't ranked despite finishing last season at No. 4 in The Associated Press poll. Losing Smith, four other NFL draft picks and Meyer seems to have knocked the Utes out of the national picture for now.

But they're used to it. Last season was the first time Utah was ranked in the AP preseason poll.

Friday's game was originally scheduled for Thursday, but moved back a day for television. It's also against team from the Pac-10, one of the leagues with guaranteed spots in the Bowl Championship Series. The Utes needed an at-large bid to the Fiesta Bowl, giving the MWC a spot in one of the elite, big-money games.

A victory over a Pac-10 school, even one that went 3-8 a year ago, on a night when there is only one other game scheduled would be excellent publicity for the Utes.

"It's important to get that national exposure. This is the first look the country has at the '05 version of the Utes," Whittingham said.