Utah Sports Ruckus: College football in Utah has potential

By Nate Gagon

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 18 2014 8:50 a.m. MST

The path to national relevance for the school up north is a little more difficult to envision, although certainly not impossible. If the Utes are to become a premier program in the Pac-12 and in the country, they will need visionary and creative leadership. They will need to carve out some unique approaches and philosophies, and become very good at selling those, to get recruits to choose Utah over more historically prestigious programs.

If I was the Utah athletic director, I would overpay, drastically if necessary, to bring in a big-name coach with heavy ties to the NFL and mass charisma for recruiting. The coach’s primary job would be to convince top recruits that they can come to Utah and play right away in the Pac-12 and that he can get them into the NFL. I would then work with the head coach to put together a supporting staff, also with heavy NFL ties, which can convincingly help spread and enhance the playing time and NFL messages to recruits.

In college football, as opposed to basketball, players almost always stay in the program for at least three years before going pro regardless of how good they are, so the Utes would still have time to develop talent and chemistry with this approach.

I would also invest heavily to be on the cutting-edge of analytical technology to learn and perfect the most statistically efficient and effective ways to play the game of football. Football is as much science as anything.

Whatever the Utes do, they must find creative ways to distinguish and identify their program if they want to be a perennial top-three program in the Pac-12. They cannot rely on “out-executing” their opponents or on trying to match other Pac-12 programs in mass appeal and attractiveness. It won’t work.

In short, there are big obstacles and much work to be done for both the Utes and Cougars, but there are also reasons for hope.

So, college football fans in the state of Utah, while you should be able to rationally acknowledge where your programs are on the food chain of national relevancy, you should not give up hope, stop watching, or stop caring.

And remember one other point from last week’s column, expressed in the very first paragraph: “College football is about more than just football.” Deep down I think we all know that when we attend or watch a game, ultimately the time spent enjoying the company of our children, other family members or friends, is far more important than how many people in New York or Los Angeles care about our teams.

At least that’s my experience.

In hindsight

The Ruckus went 7-1 in the crystal ball predictions for last week, bringing its two-week total to 14-3. The Jazz’s win over the Lakers on the road was the one failed prediction.

The Jazz, winners of three straight, are starting to ruin everything for themselves. They now have just the seventh-worst record in the league and are gaining on Cleveland, New York, Detroit, Charlotte and New Orleans.

It may already be time to start looking at alternative plans for the Jazz’s title-contending rebuilding project. Getting a top-three pick in the next draft looked like the surest way to go, but that seems less and less likely by the week.

Which fan is going to start the LebronToUtah.com website?

The BYU men’s basketball team suffered a horrible loss to Pacific on Thursday, following which everybody claimed the Cougars’ hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament were finished. Two days later BYU beat Saint Mary’s on the road, after which everybody claimed the Cougars’ hopes were resurrected.

Ah, the world of 24/7 sports coverage.

As of Feb. 17, ESPN’s Bracketology expert, Joe Lunardi, had the Cougars among the “First Four Out” of the NCAA Tournament.

The Utes did what they were supposed to do in beating USC and losing to UCLA on the road, and are solidly in the middle group of the Pac-12, at No. 7. They do not seem to be getting any consideration for an at-large bid to the tournament at this point and it is highly unlikely the Pac-12 will get more than six teams in, as is currently projected by ESPN.

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