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Urban Legend

Scott Haynes, College Editor

On Campus Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Sure, he has only been a head coach at the collegiate level for four years now, but the foundation that Utah's Urban Meyer is laying down is the stuff that legends are made of.

The 40-year old Meyer has had his hand in the college game since being a graduate assistant at Ohio State in 1986. Two years in Columbus as an assistant, two more at Illinois State, followed by six at Colorado State and finally four at Notre Dame, finally landed Meyer his first head coaching job at Bowling Green in 2001.

In his first season with the Falcons, all Meyer did was earn MAC Coach of the Year honors, while leading the team to its first winning season since 1994. A star on the rise, Meyer's stay with Bowling Green would not last long.

Urban Meyer
Urban Meyer is the reason that Utah is a force to be reckoned with now, regardless of what conference you are in.

After compiling a 17-6 overall record that included a 5-0 mark against BCS teams, the secret was out and Meyer was on his way to bigger and better things, ultimately landing him in Salt Lake City with the Utes.

The powers that be at Utah were looking for lightning in a bottle. The same intensity that Meyer had at Bowling Green, was expected with the Utes.

Well, Meyer has not disappointed.

Meyer's debut season at Utah set the bar extremely high, as he earned National Coach of the Year honors in 2003, (first Utah coach ever to earn the distinction). He was also named the Mountain West Conference Coach of the Year, as he led the Utes to a 10-2 record (the best season ever for a first- year coach at Utah).

The hiring of Meyer paid immediate dividends, as the 10-2 record last season tied for the best in school history. The team claimed its first conference championship since 1957. Utah played in its first-ever New Year's Eve Bowl (17-0 win over Southern Miss in the Liberty Bowl) and finished the year ranked 21st in the nation in both major polls.

Some would say that an encore performance would be more than should be expected, but the 2004 version of the Utes is better than the 2003 team and that is saying a lot.

The Utes are the darlings of the college football world, the underdogs who are perhaps destined to blow up the BCS this year.

The team is off to another fast start. At 6-0 on the year, ninth-ranked Utah already has three wins over BCS teams (Texas A&M, Arizona and North Carolina) and ranks seventh in the first BCS standings this year (best debut ever by a mid-major). The road has opened up wide for a run at a perfect season, with three remaining home games against UNLV, Colorado State and BYU on the docket, while road trips to San Diego State and Wyoming look inviting as well.

Detractors will state that Utah doesn't deserve a spot in a BCS Bowl game. They will say that a second or third-place finisher from the SEC for example, is much more deserving than an undefeated team from a smaller conference.

While that may be true most seasons and with the majority of the enigmatic teams from the outcast world otherwise known as the mid-majors, the argument holds little water in this case.

Utah is not the "flavor of the month" if you will. This is a team with a great deal of talent and the poise to go with it. Utah has won every game it has played this year going away, with the smallest margin of victory being a 14- point win over Air Force. The Utes destroyed Texas A&M in the season-opener (41-21), the very same Aggies that are now running all over the competition in the Big 12.

The team is averaging nearly 40 points per game, with the kind of offensive balance (233.3 yards per game rushing and 264.8 yards per game passing) that will give any opponent more than a moment or two of trepidation.

The Utes have a seasoned leader under center in Alex Smith, who has the ability to beat teams with his arm (1,460 yards passing, 12 TDs and only two INTs) or with his legs (262 yards rushing and seven TDs). There is talent at the other skill positions as well in running back Marty Johnson (5.6 ypc, seven TDs) and wideout Steve Savoy (35 receptions, for 531 yards and five scores).

The defense is getting it done also, led by playmakers like linebacker Spencer Toone (55 tackles, three fumble recoveries).

However, make no mistake about it, Meyer is the reason that Utah is a force to be reckoned with now, regardless of what conference you are in.

Legends are forged in the fire of competition. That fire is burning bright in Salt Lake City these days.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Haynes


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