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

This year’s recruiting results are on par with what they generally are for the Utes, Cougs and Aggies. These recruiting results, along with the college football standings, lack of NFL draftees, small-time bowl games and other indicators prove that college football in the state of Utah has the flu.

Or, maybe it doesn’t have the flu. Maybe it is exactly what it has always been.

Would BYU have gone undefeated in 1984 playing in a nationally relevant conference? Would the Utes have done so in 2004 or 2008? Would the Aggies have won as many games as they have the last couple years?

Whether or not our state’s college football performance ever was as impressive and relevant as many have believed, hoped or dreamed, the saddest part may be what has happened off the playing field in recent years.

At least we once had a relevant rivalry game and conference bragging rights to talk about. At least BYU and Utah were nationally irrelevant brothers, along with similar programs like TCU and Boise State. In some ways the combined irrelevance and corresponding shoulder chips of these programs gave them relevance and made them compelling and interesting.

Now, Utah can be irrelevant with Colorado in the Pac-12; BYU can be irrelevant independently; TCU can be irrelevant as the Lone Star baby brother in the Big-12; and Boise State can be irrelevant in the Mountain West. Utah State perhaps could have joined its brothers in irrelevant relevance, along with others like Nevada, San Diego State and the military schools. But that ship has sailed.

So, Ute fans rightfully enjoy the Pac-12 money and window stickers. Cougar fans rightfully appreciate the firesides and ESPN exposure. Aggie fans justly enjoy the step up to the Mountain West Conference.

Just don’t get your hopes too high when your coaches and university leaders jump for joy at their 60th ranked recruiting classes or fans disguised as journalists applaud their efforts. Our local programs, at this point in history, are much closer to where the national recruiting rankings place them on the food chain of relevancy than where many have believed, hoped or dreamed they were.

In hindsight

The Ruckus went 7-2 in the crystal ball predictions for last week, with the Jazz’s win over the Heat and the Aggies' win over Boise State being the two misses.

That was a remarkable win for the Jazz Saturday night. Even the rational fans that are hoping for the Jazz to get as many ping pong balls in the upcoming draft as possible could suspend their anti-cheering for one night.

Beating the “we’re going to win eight championships” Miami Heat and Mr. “I’m taking my talents to South Beach” LeBron James is always a worthy cause, no matter who you are or what you stand to gain by losing.

It was a compelling atmosphere at ESA as the Jazz fans and the multitude of Heat fans tried to drown each other out with boos and cheers throughout the evening. In the end, the Heat fans left stunned and humbled, while the Jazz fans were justifiably giddy.

Until the Jazz pulled out the clutch win behind Marvin Williams’ 3-point shooting (5-of-8), Gordon Hayward’s playmaking (11 assists) and Trey Burke’s game-clinching jumper, the highlight of the night was actually 11-year-old Lexi Walker, who sang the national anthem. Mouths hung open throughout the arena as little Lexi belted a tremendous, powerful, classy anthem to kick off a great night for the home crowd.

In beating the reigning two-time champs, the Jazz gave sufficient signs that their young team is on the right track. Now they can get back to racking up losses and ping pong balls.

***

The BYU men’s basketball team is refusing to go quietly into the NIT. Even before beating Santa Clara and San Francisco last week, ESPN’s bracketology expert, Joe Lunardi, had the Cougars in the NCAA Tournament as one of the “last four in,” playing in the opening play-in round.

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