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Burbank, Calif. • Most media at Pac-12 media days know little about the teams they don't cover.
Last year, nobody asked Kyle Whittingham about quarterback Kendal Thompson, arguably the biggest storyline of Utah's fall camp. This year, few were interested in the status of cornerback Dominique Hatfield, kicked off the team on July 10.
The biggest lesson at media day is what people who know next to nothing about a team think about that team.
And that's not worthless: That's perception.
So what's the perception of Utah, which met the press Friday at Warner Bros. studios?
That with Tom Hackett and Andy Phillips, they have excellent special teams. That they're tough. That they will again finish fifth in the Pac-12 South.
But, perhaps for the first time, that they might finish first.
Whittingham said before he entered the gauntlet that he hasn't noticed a dramatic difference in the types of questions he's been asked this year.
But more reporters listed Utah when they talked to other coaches about the difficulty of the Pac-12 South, although sometimes in the vein of, "… and can you believe UTAH is picked fifth?"
Coaches and players also heaped praise on Whittingham's group. UCLA head coach Jim Mora and USC's Steve Sarkisian told ESPN on the East Coast swing of media days that Utah is the team they least enjoy playing. UCLA linebacker Deon Hollins said he wants revenge against the Utes, above all others, after their upset victory in Pasadena last year.
Utah linebacker Jared Norris billed by Whittingham as a potential NFL player who last week ran a 4.5-second 40 said he doesn't think Utah should be considered an underdog after a 9-4 season it capped by routing Colorado State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
"All the tools that we need are there," Norris said.
But ultimately, nobody wants to know too much about what's in Utah's tool bag. They have a vague idea that Utah can beat the best, and that's enough. It's July.
Multiple coaches mentioned running back Devontae Booker, viewed as one of the Pac-12's top offensive weapons, and Whittingham touted him as a potential Heisman candidate.
So, naturally, Booker was asked about his favorite Halloween costume.
(A devil mask that he still uses to scare his nephews straight, he said.)
Whittingham handed Gatorade towels to wipe sweat off his forehead between radio tents met former USC quarterback Matt Leinart and triangulated a distant relationship between Whittingham and Leinart's son.
Norris and Booker took turns beating a giant "U." pinata, breaking their plastic bats.
They played putt-putt.
They dressed up as cowboys.
Next week, they'll play football. Only then will anybody really be able to say they know anything about Utah.
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