In a surprise to no one, the Pac-12 media members picked Utah to finish fifth in the Pac-12 South. Only Colorado is expected to do worse in the division.
Last year, in contrast, the Utes were expected to finish just behind USC in the division - so, the perception of the program has certainly taken a tumble over the last year.
But like I said, this shouldn't surprise anyone. Utah deserves its fifth place picking because they haven't proven in the Pac-12 to be much better than that spot. Let's be honest, as harsh as it sounds, the Utes don't deserve anyone's respect - not the media's and definitely not that of opposing teams. I wish it wasn't the case, and we can rationalize Utah will somehow surprise in 2013, but their position is absolutely justified. Why, after what has happened the last two seasons, would anyone want to go out on a limb for the Utes?
So, no one from the program should feel slighted or upset by this placement. Guess what? That happens when you lose. The good thing, and what every Utah player needs to realize, is that these predictions don't mean jack. Just ask last year's team. None of this is set in stone and that has to be the mindset of the players when they take the field against Utah State later next month.
We've discussed all off-season how the Utes need to earn back the respect they lost with last year's abysmal results, so, I'm not going to spend the time going over any of that again. We know that this season is a put up or shut up type deal ... and if Utah doesn't like being disrespected now, they better turn around and win because I guarantee you another losing season will position them right toward the bottom of the division entering the 2014 season.
What I know is that Utah hasn't entered a season with so little expected from them since Urban Meyer's first season. We all know how that turned out and, oddly, the Utes were also picked to finish fifth that season too, though in the entire Mountain West and not their division. I'm not saying to expect such a turnaround, but it does show how quick a turnaround back to respectability can be and that's important.
The difference, of course, was that this happened under a first-year head coach and not one who's entering his ninth season. The improvement in 2003 was solely a byproduct of a coaching change and we don't have that luxury this season. That makes it a bit more difficult. If what led to last season was partly because of coaching, where is the guarantee things will change a season later? That's why I'm so invested in the potential of this season. I believe it's really an indication of where the program is going under Kyle Whittingham - just as 2000 was for Ron McBride.
Hopefully the team will use this prediction as motivation to get back to a bowl game. It's not an ideal situation to be in, I'll readily admit that, but they can change the perception with just one season. If they're angry and feel discounted in these polls and expectations, then they need to do something about it. It's that simple.