- Associated Press - Friday, August 12, 2011

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah senior Tony Bergstrom rolled out of practice this week in his beat-up 1999 Ford Escort, testament to the blue-collar family man that he is.

That’s about all that’s old at the university high on the hill in Salt Lake City.

The Utes are in the new Pac-12 Conference, building a $30 million football center, are part of a record $3 billion TV package and no longer content to be a BCS buster. They’re in the spotlight, a fact that surely will set in when they open conference play on the road Sept. 10 against USC at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

“Oh, there’s pressure, but excitement comes with that,” said freshman running back Harvey Langi, who weighed signing at USC and Stanford but opted to stay in Utah, where he was a high school All-American. “We’ve got to realize the opportunity that’s ahead of us. We’ve got to realize how many people are watching us and doubting us.”

Utah, with 21 wins vs. BCS teams since the championship format began in 1998, is picked to finish anywhere from first to fifth in the Pac-12 South. Some look at the fact that the Utes drew the best possible schedule, avoiding powers Oregon and Stanford this first season.

Though Utah has gone 33-6 the past three years while competing in the Mountain West Conference, the Utes were just 1-2 against Top 25 competition last season and were outscored 101-13 in losses to TCU, Notre Dame and Boise State.

“There’s a lot of unknowns,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged. “We’re playing in a new conference, and against teams that we know very little about. But that works both ways.”

Utah returns 13 starters, including a handful of players who are candidates for top national awards.

Bergstrom is on the preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy after starting all 26 games at offensive tackle the past two years and not allowing a sack during the regular season.

Senior linebacker Chaz Walker is on the watch list for the Lombardi Award, and junior wide receiver DeVonte Christopher is a potential candidate for the Biletnikoff Award.

Throwing to him will be quarterback Jordan Wynn, on the Davey O’Brien watch list after a sophomore season in which he completed 62 percent of his passes for 2,334 yards and 17 TDs.

No question he’ll have to shoulder much of the load, even if it’s on a shoulder he had surgically repaired Dec. 13.

Whittingham has had to limit Wynn’s workload but expects him to be ready.

Brian Blechen, who moves from safety to linebacker after a standout freshman season, notices more than added strength and 10 pounds on his quarterback.

“What’s changed is his team leadership,” Blechen said of Wynn, like him another California kid who grew up watching Pac-10 games.

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