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By Sean Smith's account, Zane Taylor is one of the strongest players on Utah's team.

By Utes offensive line coach Charlie Dickey's account, Taylor is one of the smartest players and, as his starting center, one of the most technically sound.

It's a good thing that Taylor receives such ringing endorsements from his teammates and coaches when it comes to his best attributes. He's going to need them in the Sugar Bowl when Utah squares off against Alabama.

The job for the sophomore from Moab will be one of the most important of the game. He's the one who has the task of slowing down Terrence Cody, the monstrous Crimson Tide nose guard who is one of the best defensive linemen in college football.

It's tough to put anyone in that kind of position, but Taylor has the confidence of his teammates and his coaches. He also has the kind of self-confidence that suggests he will perform on the biggest stage of his career against the biggest challenge he's ever faced.

"Do I think I'm ready? We're going to find out," said Taylor. "Cody's a great player and they have a great defensive front four. We're going to have to play our best game of the season to be effective against them."

This is where Taylor comes in. He has been a security blanket all season long for quarterback Brian Johnson, who hasn't faced much in the way of pressure over the course of the year. If Taylor and the rest of the offensive line can keep Johnson upright, the chances of the Utes defeating one of the best teams in the country dramatically increases.

But Taylor is a guy who has enjoyed a quick rise to stardom. He won the job in spring practice, and even then teammates weren't sure what they were getting. He announced that his play was for real with seven pancake blocks against Michigan in the season opener and then went on to make the all-Mountain West team at the end of the season.

Not bad for a first year starter.

"He's been amazing for us this season," Smith said. "At first, when he got the job, we didn't know how he was going to react. We wanted to see how he would do because center is one of the most important positions on the field. But he's done a great job for us this season."