Bleeding Red: Utes hope this year they earn R-E-S-P-E-C-T

It’s time to make my mark you see
A new season and a new quest
‘Cuz Rodney Dangerfield and me
The two of us get no respect

COMMENTARY — Utah and I have at least one thing in common — we both find ourselves in relatively new situations in which we are still trying to gain the respect of our peers.

Last week, before Kyle Whittingham’s weekly press conference, I specifically made it a point to introduce myself to Utah’s Sports Information Director the minute I walked into the room (not to mention the fact that I was the only member of the media in the room wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt). I then asked my editor to make a follow-up contact to make sure the Utah sports information folks would know who I am.

Within an hour after the press conference ended, my editor received an e-mail from Utah’s Sports Information Director instructing my editor to have me introduce myself when I show up to my first press conference. So much for making a big first impression. Now I know how Rodney Dangerfield feels – no respect.

As one of the newest members of the Pac-12, Utah still has to earn the respect of the rest of the Pac-12 in both football and basketball.

Utah deservedly earned a spot in the Pac-12 with a consistently high level of play over a number of years in both sports. Utah was the original BCS bowl-buster, and is 2-0 in BCS bowl games. And not that many years ago, Utah has made deep runs into the NCAA basketball tournament, including a heart-breaking loss in the title game to Kentucky.

But even then the talking heads predicted that Utah could never survive the rigors of playing top-notch competition week in and week out in a quality conference like the Pac-12. So far, they are right.

In the Utes’ first year in the Pac-12, they had a chance to sneak into the inaugural Pac-12 football title game. However, a loss to Colorado at home in the last game torpedoed Utah’s eligibility for the conference title game, and certainly did not help Utah’s image among the established Pac-12 schools. Last year’s 5-7 record and no bowl game only made a bad situation even worse.

I’ll leave a more in-depth discussion of the Runnin’ Utes fortunes on the hardwood for another day.

Can Utah finally break through this year? Or like me, will Utah be reduced to constantly re-introducing itself in a vain attempt to earn some recognition and respect?

Some commentators have ranked Utah’s 2013 schedule as one of the top 10 toughest schedules in the country. This can be either a good thing or a bad thing. Either Utah is going to make a statement and prove a lot of people wrong, or Utah is going to limp through its third year in the Pac-12.

During the pregame show prior to last week’s game against Utah State, the Fox Sports broadcast panel picked Utah State to beat Utah 3-2 (with NFL great Eddie George leading the trio of Aggie backers). In other words, going into the season this year, even Utah State carried more cachet nationally than the Utes.

Utah’s 30-26 victory over Utah State was a good start to what may be Utah’s toughest season ever. I’ll take a win for Utah wherever I can find it in this season’s schedule. But at the end of the day, it was only one game and there are still 11 more teams on the schedule (including five Pac-12 opponents who started the season ranked in the top 25).

Utah’s offense showed vast improvement over last year. However, I cannot believe that Utah fully utilized all of its offensive options against Utah State either (at least I sure hope not). This offense is still a work in progress. I expect Dennis Erickson to open up the field and give Travis Wilson more options to work with as the season wears on.

Utah’s defense is going to be tested week in and week out and will need to show improvement as well if Utah is going to be bowl eligible at the end of the season.

Coach Whittingham has made no secret of his preference to play a non-FBS school as a season opening tune-up. He has also candidly admitted that the schedule is beyond his control and he will play whomever Utah is matched up against in any given game.

While it comes one week late, Utah will get its tune-up game against Weber State this week. Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said the Weber State game will give the Utes an opportunity to address some areas of concern.

“Our main objective is to shore up those areas of weakness we had against Utah State,” he said.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier after this, so here’s hoping that Utah makes it 2-0 in its quest for respect playing with the big boys in the Pac-12.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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