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Dick Harmon: Will move to Pac-10 affect Utah Utes recruiting?

Published: Saturday, July 3 2010 12:01 a.m. MDT

Zane Taylor and other Utah football players lift weights during summer training.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

What will be the biggest impact of Pac-10 membership on Utah football? Aside from the obvious: big-time coin.

The immediate impact will be exposure. The BCS league will further Utah's brand in a way the Mountain West Conference simply can't. The exposure will be significant and, if the Utes win football games, it will be a tremendous boost. If they lose games, it could nick them, but it's still exposure, the kind you simply can't buy.

I think the more interesting facet of joining a BCS league is how it will impact Ute recruiting. Will it be huge? A nice little bump? Or will going head-to-head with conference brethren end up being a push, give or take a body or two? This is something that can't be answered immediately, but the Ute staff has loved the idea for months of utilizing a Pac-10 billboard and pushed that agenda with recruits.

Who wouldn't? In a recent interview with a Seattle radio station, Ute coach Kyle Whittingham made no bones about it — this new move takes away a barrier, a stigma, an issue he no longer needs to battle.

"We are going after the best players we can find," Whittingham said. "That doesn't change in that respect. What we have now is a level playing field. In the previous conference, the Mountain West Conference, which is very competitive, a very good conference, but it is not an (automatic qualifier) status conference, and that really is a hindrance in recruiting as was it a hindrance to us.

"So what we have now is the ability to not have that be a negative for the recruits because we can go in and say that we are in a BCS conference and that is really just the most important facet is that right there.

"Now, obviously, the bar is raised," he said. "The Pac-10 has exceptional teams, football-wise. You have got USC and Oregon, a bunch of good football programs in that league, and that is also a selling point to recruits is 'Hey, you have got a chance to play with top-notch competition.' "

Utah's formula in recruiting has been to hit Pac-10 territory, a deep well that's proved fruitful since the days of Wayne Howard.

Utah has key contacts with prep and JC coaches from San Diego to Oakland.

That won't change. The Utes have designs on Texas for speed, looking to have their roster be 25 percent Texans. Whittingham has said recruiting the state of Utah has been his No. 1 priority.

Utah has gone up against Oregon, USC, UCLA and the rest many times. When Utah's recruiting pitch has failed in that realm, the prospect's answer has sometimes been that the MWC wasn't the Pac-10 and there was no Rose Bowl — but that could have been an easy out for staying closer to home, where parents and friends could see games.

Whittingham believes the conference affiliation had something to do with it, and now he can put that theory to the test.

"No question about it, and we have gone head-to-head with the Pac-10 several years now and we have won our fair share of those battles. But the majority of those battles that we lost, that was most typically the overriding factor, was 'Hey, we want to be in a BCS conference where we are guaranteed to be in the Rose Bowl if we take care of business' and that type of thing," said Whittingham.

"So, like I said, we don't have that stigma attached to us anymore and we are hoping that it will make recruiting that much more productive."

When you have 25 scholarships a year and you have a proven track record of getting Pac-10 talent, the issue now becomes: Will you be able to convince some of the higher-rated blue-chippers to come to Utah — taking an increased share?

We'll be able to see immediately in the next recruiting cycle if the local prep stars are turned toward the Utes. A good watermark might be Bingham's Harvey Langi, who has plenty of attention from Pac-10 schools.

Many locals see a school like USC and Oregon as more glamorous than just a BCS stage. They leave Utah to get away from home, some thinking it's an easier way to the NFL. But recent NFL drafts, like the ones Utah has had the last two years, proves the big league knows where to find players. And it seems geographic boundaries or how much candle power the lights have don't mean that much.

With Highland's Haloti Ngata, he had relatives with ties to Eugene and Oregon's coaching staff, and situations like that can turn the tide with an in-state player.

East High defensive end Will Tukuafu, who committed to BYU before an LDS Church mission, had to go the JC route to be eligible for Division I and later chose to go to Oregon. Would he have stayed home if he had a nearby BCS bed?

As for the Texas rush, will it remain the same priority now that there isn't a guaranteed trip to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex area? Will Utah locals be persuaded by the luster of this BCS billboard? Will Pac-10 territory remain fertile, or will it be impressively enhanced?

This will be very interesting to witness as things unwind in the days to come.

e-mail: dharmon@desnews.com

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