By Anne M. Peterson

The Associated Press

Utes’ schedule

(All times Pacific)

Aug. 29, at BYU, 7:15 p.m.

Sept. 7, Northern Illinois, 10 a.m.

Sept. 14, Idaho State, 1:15 p.m.

Sept. 20, at USC, 6 p.m.

Sept. 28, Washington State, TBA

Oct. 12, at Oregon State, TBA

Oct. 19, Arizona State, TBA

Oct. 26, California, TBA

Nov. 2, at Washington, TBA

Nov. 16, UCLA, TBA

Nov. 23, at Arizona, TBA

Nov. 30, Colorado, TBA

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he started discussing the possibility of preseason hype with his team a few months back.

The idea, he said, was to get the players to shift their attention to the process.

“We all know that the Pac-12 championship is our goal, as I’m sure it is for every team in the Pac-12, so the focus is not on the goal, it’s how are we going to achieve that goal,” the veteran Utes coach said. “That’s the key, is to take the process day by day and just worry about what you’ve got to do that day to take a step in the right direction to achieve what you want to achieve.”

There are reasons for the hype. The Utes were selected to win the Pac-12 in the league’s preseason media poll, and they are being looked at favorably at the national level.

The Utes return quarterback Tyler Huntley, who passed for 1,788 yards with 12 touchdowns last season but missed the final five games because of a broken collarbone. Huntley also rushed for 304 yards and another four scores.

Zack Moss, who decided to stay for his senior year rather than bolt for the NFL, has had back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He amassed 1,096 yards and 11 touchdowns last season before he went down with a knee injury. Like Huntley, Moss was hurt in a 38-20 loss to Arizona State and missed the final five games.

Moss fully buys into Whittingham’s approach: “This team, at the heart and the core, still has an underdog mentality and it’s very good for us.”

Despite losing their stars down the stretch, the Utes averaged 30 points per game last season — even after failing to score a touchdown in a 10-3 loss to Washington in the Pac-12 title game. Utah blew an early lead over Northwestern in the Holiday Bowl to finish 9-5.

The Utes, who have won at least nine games in four of the last five seasons, return 14 starters, including seven on offense and seven on defense.

Other things to know about Utah:

All about that D

Utah’s defense was ranked 14th nationally last season, allowing opponents an average of 306.2 yards a game. The Utes were especially stout against the run, with foes managing just over 100 yards per game on average to rank fifth nationally. Many believe the defensive line — with left end Bradlee Anae and ­tackle Leki Fotu — is one of the best units in the country. The key will be replacing departed linebackers Chase Hansen and Cody Barton.

Whittingham’s legacy

Whittingham is officially the dean of the Pac-12’s coaches, about to embark on his 15th season in charge of the Utes. He is third on the list of longest-tenured coaches currently active at the FBS level, behind Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz (21 seasons) and TCU’s Gary Patterson (19 seasons).

Ludwig’s back

Andy Ludwig is returning for his second stint as offensive coordinator at Utah. He was also on Whittingham’s staff from 2005 to 2008. Ludwig, whose numerous coaching stops include a three-year stint as OC at Oregon (2002-04), spent the past four seasons at Vanderbilt.

“I’ve got a great deal of respect for Andy. We’re very similar in the way we approach the game. There’s a lot of compatibility there, and he’s a meticulous, detail-oriented guy,” Whittingham said.

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