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Top 10 sports stories: Utes, Cougars and all that Jazz, etc.

Published: Monday, Aug. 31 2015 10:17 p.m. MDT

(from lef) Randy Dryer, who leads the Board of Regents of the University of Utah, University President Michael Young, U of U Athletic Director Chris Hill and PAC-10 Commissioner Larry Scott have a laugh at the Rice Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday, June, 17, 2010.  Mike Terry, Deseret News (Mike Terry, Deseret News) (from lef) Randy Dryer, who leads the Board of Regents of the University of Utah, University President Michael Young, U of U Athletic Director Chris Hill and PAC-10 Commissioner Larry Scott have a laugh at the Rice Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah on Thursday, June, 17, 2010. Mike Terry, Deseret News (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

This was the summer of football conference discontent.

The landslide that changed the landscape of college football began with a simple shift — rumblings of unrest in the Big 12.

Six months later, aftershocks of conference changes — motivated mostly by football — are still being felt.

Utah moving to the Pac-12, BYU striking out on its own in football, TCU heading to the Big East and the Mountain West Conference luring four of the Western Athletic Conference's best schools, including Boise State, was hands down 2010's biggest sports story in Utah.

The saga captivated attention and consumed conversations daily as local schools waited for invitations, passed up other offers and were passed over by BCS conferences.

But just as in Shakespeare's Richard III, the angst of early summer quickly gave way to celebrations, as the University of Utah joined the Pac-12 and BYU opted for independence in football and aligned with the West Coast Conference for other sports.

(L to R) Bingham's Dalton Fackrell (9) Manoa Pikula (22) and  Josh Smith (10) celebrate their 5A state title over Fremont High School at Rice Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City  on Friday, Nov., 19, 2010.    (Mike Terry, Deseret News) (Mike Terry, Deseret News) (L to R) Bingham's Dalton Fackrell (9) Manoa Pikula (22) and Josh Smith (10) celebrate their 5A state title over Fremont High School at Rice Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov., 19, 2010. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

Once on the outside looking in, Utah now owns a spot in an automatic qualifying conference, and BYU is poised to make more money and receive more national exposure for its storied football program.

Worries about demise of the rivalry, considered one of the country's best, were put to rest when officials from both schools announced a plan to play the game earlier in the season — at least for the next few seasons.

The moves dramatically changed college athletics at both universities for years to come.

When the rumors of dissatisfaction in the Big 12 reached Pac-10 (now Pac-12) commissioner Larry Scott, he made a bold move — he tried to persuade a handful of the Big 12's most influential football schools to join the Pac-10 and form a 16-team super league. It ultimately failed, but it was a plan that fueled plotting in numerous conferences and rivaled the best soap operas for drama.

BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe announces going independent in football and joining the WCC for other sports and their contract wit ESPN.   Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2010  Stuart Johnson, Deseret News (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News) BYU Athletic Director Tom Holmoe announces going independent in football and joining the WCC for other sports and their contract wit ESPN. Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2010 Stuart Johnson, Deseret News (Stuart Johnson, Deseret News)

It was June 10 that the dominoes started to officially fall.

First, Colorado announced it would accept an invitation to leave the Big 12 for the Pac-10. A day later, Nebraska announced it would leave the Big 12 as well, but the Cornhuskers chose to join the Big 10.

The Big 12, one of the most powerful football conferences in the country for the past 14 years, appeared to be crumbling.

Then the dominoes fell closer to home. On June 11, Boise State announced it was leaving the WAC for the Mountain West Conference. Celebrations that the conference was now strong enough to earn automatic qualifying status from the BCS, however, were short lived.

Just days later, Utah officially announced it was leaving the MWC for the Pac-10.

Calling it a "great day to be a Ute," Utah officials celebrated the decision in a press conference on Thursday, June 16.

Rauwshan McKenzie y Nat Borchers de Real Salt Lake se abrazan ante Javier Rauwshan McKenzie y Nat Borchers de Real Salt Lake se abrazan ante Javier "Chuleta" Orozco de Cruz Azul despu? de su partido de CONCACAF en el estadio Rio Tinto en Sandy el martes, 19 de octubre, 2010. Real Salt Lake gan? 3-1. (Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah) Rauwshan McKenzie and Nat Borchers of Real Salt Lake battles for the ball with Javier "Chuleta" Orozco of Cruz Azul following their CONCACAF match up at Rio Tinto stadium in Sandy Tuesday, October 19, 2010. RSL won, 3-1. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) (Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah)

"We are thrilled and delighted with this invitation," said U of U president Michael Young. "This is a tremendous thing for the University of Utah."

While Utah administrators, fans and alumni celebrated their invitation, BYU fans felt snubbed and slighted. There was brief talk of BYU being invited to the Big 12, but a formal invitation never came.

Instead of crumbling, the Big 12 rebounded and decided to remain in tact as a 10-team league.

What no one knew in July was that BYU was mulling over a choice that few considered a serious option — football independence. The Cougars weren't going to stand around waiting for someone to invite them to a party; they'd simply host their own party and invite whoever they wanted.

University officials talked secretly with WAC officials throughout the summer and came to a preliminary agreement that would allow the school to play all sports but football in the WAC. It was unofficially confirmed in news stories on Aug. 18 with a promised press conference to follow days later.

Paulo Araujo Jr. de Real Salt Lake celebra despu? de tirar el primer gol ante Cruz Azul durante el primer tiempo de su partido de CONCACAF en el estadio Rio Tinto en Sandy el martes, 19 de octubre, 2010. (Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah)  Paulo Araujo Jr. of Real Salt Lake celebrates after scoring the first goal against Cruz Azul during the first half of their CONCACAF match up at Rio Tinto stadium in Sandy Tuesday, October 19, 2010. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)  (Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah) Paulo Araujo Jr. de Real Salt Lake celebra despu? de tirar el primer gol ante Cruz Azul durante el primer tiempo de su partido de CONCACAF en el estadio Rio Tinto en Sandy el martes, 19 de octubre, 2010. (Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah) Paulo Araujo Jr. of Real Salt Lake celebrates after scoring the first goal against Cruz Azul during the first half of their CONCACAF match up at Rio Tinto stadium in Sandy Tuesday, October 19, 2010. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) (Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah)

Now it was the MWC that looked finished.

But not 24 hours after that first report, Fresno State and Nevada announced they were leaving the WAC and following Boise State to the MWC. Utah State administrators admitted they had received an "inquiry of interest" from the MWC as well, but chose to stay in the WAC in honoring a commitment to the conference and a plan that would bring BYU into the league for every sport except football.

With the loss of Fresno, Nevada and Boise State, BYU chose not to affiliate its other sports with the WAC. Instead, a week after the expected announcement with the WAC, the Cougars agreed to play in the West Coast Conference in 12 other sports.

It was a devastating blow to the WAC, which also lost Hawaii earlier this month when officials there announced the school would also join the Mountain West Conference in football.

Bingham's Harvey Lang breaks through the defense in the 5A State Championship matchup against Fremont High School at Rice Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City  on Friday, Nov., 19, 2010.    (Mike Terry, Deseret News) (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Bingham's Harvey Lang breaks through the defense in the 5A State Championship matchup against Fremont High School at Rice Eccles Stadium on the campus of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov., 19, 2010. (Mike Terry, Deseret News) (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

That was a move prompted by TCU's late-November announcement that it would be leaving the MWC to play in the Big East, which is an automatic qualifying conference.

Five months after landing Boise State, the Mountain West looks more like the current WAC, as three of the conference's top athletic powers leave for greener pastures.

The story's ending has yet to be written, as all of the schools now prepare for the reality of their new affiliations (or independence). Will it be the victory they (and their fans) envisioned? Or will they long for the summers when they were together in a conference they helped create?

No. 2 Free agent free for all

NBA free agency took on an unprecedented magnitude this summer thanks to LeBron James. While he announced he was leaving Cleveland for the Miami Heat in a much-criticized, and ironically much-watched, television special ("The Decision"), Utah Jazz fans were riveted by their own drama surrounding once beloved power forward Carlos Boozer.

Utah quarterback Terrance Cain  as the University of Utah is defeated by Boise State 26-3 in NCAA football at the Las Vegas Bowl Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010, in Henderson, Nevada.  (Tom Smart, Deseret News)  (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah quarterback Terrance Cain as the University of Utah is defeated by Boise State 26-3 in NCAA football at the Las Vegas Bowl Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010, in Henderson, Nevada. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

His ability to earn a double-double virtually every night tormented fans who, while admiring his talent, also felt cheated by his constant string of debilitating injuries and occasional pining for greener pastures.

Eventually fans got some of what they wanted in the most eventful off-season for the Jazz in five years.

The Jazz worked out a sign-and-trade agreement with the Chicago Bulls for Boozer, which gave Jazz officials a valuable traded player exception. With that, they traded Kosta Koufos and two future first-round draft picks to Minnesota for power forward Al Jefferson. They also enticed Raja Bell to come back to Utah (despite an offer to the veteran swingman from the NBA champion L.A. Lakers).

The Jazz did, however, lose fan favorite Wesley Matthews to Portland, and Kyle Korver followed Boozer to Chicago by signing with the Bulls.

as Springville and Highland play in the 4A football Semifinals at Rice Eccles Stadium.  Friday, Nov. 12, 2010. Photo by Scott G Winerton Deseret News. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) as Springville and Highland play in the 4A football Semifinals at Rice Eccles Stadium. Friday, Nov. 12, 2010. Photo by Scott G Winerton Deseret News. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

No. 3 Quarterback controversy morphs into coaching controversy

BYU's quarterback controversy led to a 1-4 start, including a loss to Utah State, the eventual firing of defensive coordinator Jaime Hill, the resignation of offensive coordinator Robert Anae and the release of BYU's offensive coaching staff.

Who would have thought that indecision about who should play one position would lead to the loss of two assistant coaches and a shake-up of the entire coaching staff?

It wasn't BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall that finally settled on freshman Jake Heaps over junior Riley Nelson. Instead, it was fate that chose the quarterback who would guide the Cougars back from one of their most disappointing starts.

Mendenhall chose to use both quarterbacks for the first three games of the season, and the result was chaos. Just recently, Mendenhall admitted that the season-opening win against Washington convinced him he could use both quarterbacks this season. He went on to say that he mishandled the situation, although it also taught him valuable lessons.

Coach Bronco Mendenhall of Brigham Young University waits to lead his team onto the field against New Mexico at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo Saturday, November 20, 2010.   (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) Coach Bronco Mendenhall of Brigham Young University waits to lead his team onto the field against New Mexico at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo Saturday, November 20, 2010. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

On Sept. 21, the controversy was settled for the Cougars' coaches when Nelson had to have season-ending shoulder surgery. Heaps struggled against Nevada and Utah State, but then proved to be very much the talent recruiters once predicted he'd be. He finished the season with a winning record and a bowl win against UTEP. Meanwhile, Mendenhall fired Hill as his defensive coordinator and took over defensive coordinating duties himself. The result was an inspired and effective defense.

All was not well that ended well, however, as Mendenhall released his entire offensive staff after the bowl victory and asked them to reapply for their positions. Anae chose to leave BYU instead.

No. 4 The streak ends at nine

The streak ended in Sin City.

For nine consecutive seasons, the Utes owned postseason football magic. It did not seem to matter where; it did not seem to matter who. While some teams just celebrate the opportunity to play in a bowl game year after year, the Utes owned an impressive win streak.

Utah's Shaky Smithson holds his head after missing a pass as Boise's Winston Venable defends as the University of Utah is defeated by Boise State 26-3 in NCAA football at the Las Vegas Bowl Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010, in Henderson, Nevada.  (Tom Smart, Deseret News) (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah's Shaky Smithson holds his head after missing a pass as Boise's Winston Venable defends as the University of Utah is defeated by Boise State 26-3 in NCAA football at the Las Vegas Bowl Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010, in Henderson, Nevada. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

But on Dec. 22, that streak ended when 10th-ranked Boise State whipped the Utes 26-3.

No. 5 Utahns win in the Winter Games

Utahns made their mark all over the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Vancouver.

Utahn Steve Holcomb won the first gold medal in four-man bobsled for the U.S. in 62 years by piloting the Night Train down the world's most treacherous track in Whistler. Then Park City native Eric Camerota and Park City resident Billy Demong teamed up with Steamboat Springs residents Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane to earn the first Nordic Combined team medal in U.S. History.

Park City's Stephani Victor won two silvers and a gold in the Paralympic alpine events. Park City native Ted Ligety won the overall World Cup title in giant slalom, but left the 2010 Olympics empty handed, while part-time Park City resident Lindsey Vonn won World Cup titles, Olympic medals and the AP's Athlete of the Year award, making her the first skier to earn that honor.

U.S. bobsled gold medalist Steve Holcomb takes a moment to address those attending a luncheon at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah March 23, 2010 to honor Utah Olympic athletes who competed in the Vancouver. Keith Johnson, Deseret News (Keith Johnson, Deseret News) U.S. bobsled gold medalist Steve Holcomb takes a moment to address those attending a luncheon at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah March 23, 2010 to honor Utah Olympic athletes who competed in the Vancouver. Keith Johnson, Deseret News (Keith Johnson, Deseret News)

No. 6 Jimmer: Now everyone else knows his name

Jimmer Fredette shattered record after record as he led the BYU men's basketball team to places they hadn't been in years. He set a BYU single-game record of 49 points against Arizona and then scored a tournament-record 45 points against TCU in the quarterfinals of the MWC tournament.

The native of Glens Falls, N.Y., then scored 37 points, including two 3-pointers in overtime, in leading the Cougars to first-round NCAA Tournament win over Florida. His total tied a scoring record held by Danny Ainge in 1981, and the win marked the first time BYU had reached the second round of the tournament in 17 years.

He then shocked national pundits when he returned to BYU for his senior season, where he was named one of the country's best players in preseason polls.

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jake Heaps (9) (R) and Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Riley Nelson (13) celebrate in Provo, Utah, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010.  Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jake Heaps (9) (R) and Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Riley Nelson (13) celebrate in Provo, Utah, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010. Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

No. 7 Realignment realities

The possibility of Highland, Springville and Orem playing sports in the 3A ranks against schools like Delta, Juab and North Sanpete caused the biggest headlines in prep sports this year.

Realignment is always controversial, but this year was unique for several reasons. First, the Board of Trustees approved a new procedure meant to keep politics out of the debate and consider more than strict population numbers. Second, the new system may have limited debate but it did not reduce controversy.

When the numbers were released, three 4A powerhouses were considered for alignment in the 3A classification. In the end, the BOT deviated from the new system to keep all three in 4A, which only created more controversy for those schools not given an exception.

No. 8 The best team in Utah high school football — ever?

Utah's Deron Williams shoots as the Utah Jazz defeat the Golden State Warriors 108-95 in NBA basketball Monday, Dec. 13, 2010, in Salt Lake City, Utah.  (Tom Smart, Deseret News)  (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah's Deron Williams shoots as the Utah Jazz defeat the Golden State Warriors 108-95 in NBA basketball Monday, Dec. 13, 2010, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

No team even came close to beating the Bingham Miners in football this season. The nationally-ranked team (finished fourth in USA Today polls) won game after game by an average of 40 points. Bingham finished 13-0 and promised to put 13 players into Division I schools on football scholarships.

The only debate left when it comes to the Miners is whether or not any high school football squad in Utah history comes close to being its equal.

No. 9 A really great season ends early

What a year it was for Real Salt Lake. Last year, the team qualified for the playoffs on the last day and then won the MLS Cup. This year, they put together a record-breaking, 25-game unbeaten streak at Rio Tinto Stadium, which is still in progress, contended for the Supporter's Shield for the league's best record until the season's final weekend and qualified for the playoffs weeks before the end of the regular season.

The United States' USA-1, with Steven Holcomb, Justin Olsen, Steve Mesler, and Curtis Tomasevicz, start the third run during the men's four-man bobsled final competition at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) (Associated Press) The United States' USA-1, with Steven Holcomb, Justin Olsen, Steve Mesler, and Curtis Tomasevicz, start the third run during the men's four-man bobsled final competition at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) (Associated Press)

The squad fell short of it's number one goal, however, when RSL was ousted from the playoffs in the first round.

No. 10 Deron Williams gets his (All-) Star moment

It didn't take long for Utah Jazz point guard Deron Williams to establish himself as one of the NBA's best point guards.

It did take a little longer, however, to convince all-star voters that the Illinois alum was worthy of the league's all-star game.

In a move that many, including Williams, felt was long overdue, he was named to the Western Conference All-Star team as a reserve in his fifth NBA season.

Williams was thrilled with the invitation, especially since the game was played in his hometown of Dallas. He impressed in his first appearance with 14 points, six assists and four steals.

Utah Jazz forward Carlos Boozer (5) yells out after a dunk as the Jazz play the Chicago Bulls at Energy Solutions Arena.  Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009. Photo by Scott G Winterton Deseret News. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Utah Jazz forward Carlos Boozer (5) yells out after a dunk as the Jazz play the Chicago Bulls at Energy Solutions Arena. Thursday, Nov. 26, 2009. Photo by Scott G Winterton Deseret News. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

"This was a great experience for me, a great first All-Star Game," Williams said. "I just hope it's the first of many in my career."

Williams and the Jazz went on to make the playoffs. They defeated Denver in the first round of the playoffs, only to be swept by the eventual champion Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals.

e-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com

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