SALT LAKE CITY — The e-mail popped up about the time I did Thursday morning, 12 hours after Boise State had smashed the Utes in the Las Vegas Bowl.
"How do you account for the success of the Boise State football team?" someone wrote. "Why are they so much better than the U? How do they get so many good players to come to Boise, Idaho? It seems like Salt Lake City would be just as attractive a place for players to come to, if not more so. Or is there more to it than that?"
Good point. A person can only bike the Greenbelt so many times. Having seen Chris Petersen operate, I doubt he's paying players to come. So what does Boise have that Salt Lake doesn't — besides a turf that makes you seasick?
I can only chalk it up to one thing: television face time.
Get on TV enough and even Snooki Polizzi becomes a star.
Of all the moves the Mountain West Conference has made, starting its own network was among the worst when it comes to recruiting. The idea originally made some sense. For starters, there was the scheduling. With ESPN, the conference always seemed to be playing in weird time slots.
It was a bit like temp work, showing up and being told where and when you'll be working that day.
Beyond that, MWC officials felt ESPN was short-changing the conference. When the league struck out on its own, it was able to pay each school more in TV revenue. Thus, it appeared a good deal on two fronts: accounting and scheduling.
But on the publicity side, things weren't so rosy. People who wanted to see the Utes had to first subscribe to a network that carried The mtn., which at first wasn't easy, even in some conference markets. But even that was merely preaching to the choir. You could catch the Utes in Salt Lake, Las Vegas and Albuquerque, but what about Houston, Miami or L.A.?
In those markets, if it was on, you had to search for it.
The "Worldwide Leader in Sport," it wasn't.
Conversely, the WAC and Boise State hung with their ESPN deal. It wasn't as much money, but the Broncos got widespread exposure. Boy, did they get exposure. Utah has been on ESPN or one of its subsidiaries just eight times since The mtn. was formed in 2006; Boise State has been on ESPN that many times this year alone. BSU has played on an ESPN channel 49 times in the past decade.
The Broncos showed off by running the Statue of Liberty, the fake punt, the hook-and-ladder and the shovel pass. They went for it on fourth down and acted like a team with nothing to lose. Eventually BSU was the favorite of all the non-AQ teams, even ahead of TCU, Utah and BYU, which had comparable programs, but not the same vibe.
This season's BSU-Virginia Tech game was ESPN's all-time most viewed college football game, in terms of households.
As Brian Johnson, the former Ute quarterback observed, the Broncos won close BCS bowls against TCU and Oklahoma, which made them memorable, "but they got a ton of exposure as well. They play Thursday and Friday every week, so everybody gets to see them."
Though Utah has more players in the NFL than Boise State, since the inception of The mtn., some enviable talent has chosen to attend BSU, which isn't coincidental. Stars such as Austin Pettis, Kellen Moore and Titus Young were juniors or seniors in high school the same year Utah stopped being on ESPN and started appearing on The mtn.
This year's Ute team wasn't as good as its BCS bowl teams. Talent varies from year to year. At the same time, it was also obvious the Utes had considerably less speed than the Broncos. Now the Utes are entering the Pac-12 and what do they need?
Speed, and lots of it.52 comments on this story
"It's a big challenge ahead of us and obviously with the transition to the Pac-12, that's the task at hand right now, and our main focus is ramping up for that," said Ute coach Kyle Whittingham.
How the Utes do depends largely on recruiting, and recruiting depends largely on TV exposure, which will increase exponentially in the Pac-12.
That's good news for the Utes, because experience has shown that getting your name out can be tricky business.
It's hard to recruit someone who may have heard your name, but just can't put a face on it.