Utah Sports Ruckus: College football in Utah has the flu

By Nate Gagon

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, Feb. 10 2014 12:30 p.m. MST

College football is about more than just football; we know that. Depending on the school, it can be about a number of different things: school spirit, regional pride, community service, entertainment, money, politics and power. Fans in Utah know it can even be about religion.

For just a moment, though, let’s forget about all the off-field stuff — both the positives like Pac-12 money for the Utes and spiritual firesides for BYU, and the negatives like how the split between the Utes and Cougars has damaged college football in the state — and just talk about the on-field football aspects of college football here in Utah.

It’s not doing very well. It has the flu of happy mediocrity.

Last Wednesday’s national signing day, when college football programs across the country officially announced their newest recruiting classes, loudly reaffirmed this.

The three FBS (Division I-A) programs in the state of Utah introduced recruiting classes that, from an on-field talent perspective, would get people fired at nationally relevant programs.

What does a nationally relevant, national-title-contending program look like? Don’t ask the state of Utah. We don’t have one.

National signing day proved this once again, especially when combined with the other on-field indicators that matter.

The faithful fans and program leaders that try to sell the idea that recruiting rankings don’t matter are not living in reality. If you doubt it, look at the recruiting rankings on ESPN.com, Scout.com or Rivals.com for the past few years. Take note of which teams are consistently near the top, which are near the bottom and which are somewhere in between. Compare the recruiting rankings to the annual BCS standings and you will find undeniable evidence that recruiting rankings translate to on-field success at a high level.

The programs and fans that want/need to will point to the occasional exceptions and proclaim that recruiting rankings are worthless. Unfortunately for college football fans in the state of Utah, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests otherwise.

In the 2014 recruiting class, not a single player from the ESPN 300 (the players ESPN’s recruiting experts identified as the 300 best in the country) signed with Utah, BYU or Utah State. Which programs did these players commit to? The nationally relevant ones.

In 2013 it was the same story. In fact, since ESPN began publishing the ESPN 150 in 2006 and then later expanded this to the ESPN 300, not a single player from those lists has ever committed to a Utah school. Even BYU’s Jake Heaps in 2010 did not make the ESPN 150 list that year, though he was rated much more highly on some other sites. Apparently ESPN got that one right.

It seems reasonable to say that if a college football program wants to be a nationally contending program, or even a top 25 program, it needs to at least land a top 300 player now and then and a few other players highly rated at their respective positions.

This is not happening for our Utah schools.

Whether you look at ESPN, Scout or Rivals, BYU and Utah both had their recruiting classes ranked in the middle of the pack, between No. 60 and No. 70 out of 125 FBS programs. Utah State was closer to the bottom.

Again, those results would get people fired at nationally relevant programs. At our Utah schools, however, it’s quite the opposite. They act thrilled to death about it, propagating a fiction that a No. 60-70 recruiting class is a good thing.

It’s one thing to be mediocre; it’s another thing to be happy about it. It’s another thing still to be happily mediocre and yet continue to talk about national championships and national relevancy.

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