Don't expect the media to jump aboard the Utah bandwagon this summer.
But that shouldn't surprise anyone considering they did last season and many were run over by the out of control cart. So, as the 2013 season inches closer, for the first time since, really, the 2003 season, not much, if anything, is expected from the Utes - and is that such a bad thing?
Currently, the three most recent college football preview magazines (Athlon, Lindy and TSN) predict Utah will finish fifth in the division ... right above the wasteland known as Colorado football. It's a position that almost certainly predicts the Utes will again miss out on the postseason
The last time Utah was picked to finish fifth in anything was all the way back in 2003, when most major preview publications were far from bullish on the beginning of the Urban Meyer era. We all know how that ended and while I don't anticipate anywhere near the jump, is there really a downside, at least temporarily, to being overlooked by the national media?
The numbers are actually more discouraging when you look at the premature betting lines put out by the Golden Nugget. Granted, these numbers are the definition of useless, but again, it does showcase the lack of respect the Utes will be receiving until they actually, you know, start winning games. But it does feed into the growing narrative that Utah won't accomplish much this season and while there is definitely merit behind it (especially when you look back to last year), these predictions aren't set in stone. In fact, Utah has a history of laying down when the expectations are high and thriving when they're low - this, of course, going even back to the Ron McBride days. 2004 is the lone anomaly in all of this - a season Utah was expected to do extremely well and that is exactly what they did.
Even in 2008, when most fans really felt the program was going to take the next step under Kyle Whittingham, they were picked to only finish second in the conference, as BYU entered that season strong preseason favorites (only three publications predicted Utah would win the Mountain West that year - and one indicated it would be a tie). The Cougars were certainly no slouch of a team, but they were overwhelmed in their two games against the best of the conference and it was actually the Frogs who proved Utah's biggest threat that year (they were picked to finish 3rd).
In 2005, the year after Utah's first undefeated season, a majority of publications picked the Utes to finish first. TCU, picked to finish fifth, won the conference and Utah ended in a four-way tie for fourth.
That's just how Utah seems to roll and it can prove frustrating because the inconsistency has played a role in why the program could never build itself into the type of national power that Boise State and TCU saw throughout the 00s - even though, more so than the Broncos, they had the foundation for it.
So, will the Utes' underdog status prove the difference this season? Whittingham has always been good at rallying the troops at the most bleakest of times, even in the process of a struggling season, and he'll have to this season to save Utah from another losing campaign.
History suggests it can be done. Utah has been picked to finish fifth or worse in their conference/division six times since 1993. Each time, they exceeded those expectation - often by a considerable margin (including winning their conference in 1995, 1999 and 2003, despite their preseason expectations) and that should offer hope. Sure, this isn't the WAC or the Mountain West, and Kyle Whittingham isn't necessarily Ron McBride or Urban Meyer, but the lack of attention, which often leads to distraction, might become an added bonus for this team.
The players need to focus and maybe them being taken down a peg will allow for that.