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Dick Harmon: USC coaching change will impact football in Utah

Published: Sunday, Aug. 30 2015 12:21 a.m. MDT

Boise State head coach Chris Petersen smiles while talking to a reporter after an NCAA college football game against Air Force in Boise, Idaho, Friday, Sept. 13, 2013. Boise State won 42-20. (Otto Kitsinger, AP) Boise State head coach Chris Petersen smiles while talking to a reporter after an NCAA college football game against Air Force in Boise, Idaho, Friday, Sept. 13, 2013. Boise State won 42-20. (Otto Kitsinger, AP)

The Lane Kiffin firing at USC will definitely have a ripple effect on football in the state of Utah.

Kiffin failed on so many fronts with the Trojans that a new face — a responsible leader and a guy who can organize, teach, scheme and produce with USC talent — will be trouble for every program in the South Division of the Pac-12, including Utah.

However, if there ever was a year to put a dent in USC football, it is this one. Kiffin getting fired — something that has never happened to a coach at USC this early in a season — can only enhance Utah’s chances come Oct. 26 in Los Angeles. The Trojans are in the middle of absorbing NCAA sanctions, which have included limited postseason appearances and scholarships.

Whatever perceived brilliance Tennessee and USC thought they saw in hiring Kiffin never materialized. Vols fans were extremely upset when he reneged on his contract and left a few years ago. In the wee hours Sunday morning, USC's athletic director fired him when he got off the airplane after a blowout loss to Arizona State.

Southern California head coach Lane Kiffin in the third quarter during an NCAA college football game against Arizona State on Saturday, Sept. 28 2013, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) (Rick Scuteri, ASSOCIATED PRESS) Southern California head coach Lane Kiffin in the third quarter during an NCAA college football game against Arizona State on Saturday, Sept. 28 2013, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) (Rick Scuteri, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

His replacement should not only continue the train of having four- and five-star recruits on the roster, but may actually know how to get the most out of them.

Who does USC pay big bucks to in order to make that happen?

Experts say the leading candidate to replace Kiffin will be Jack Del Rio, a defensive coach with the Denver Broncos. The second most desired candidate — if interested — would be Boise State coach Chris Petersen.

Other names include Kevin Sumlin of Texas A&M, James Franklin of Vanderbilt, Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern and Al Golden of Miami. Former BYU quarterback Steve Sarkisian, now at Washington, could get a look, as could Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter. Ed Orgeron, the Trojans' defensive coordinator, has been named interim coach and is also a candidate.

But Petersen’s name has captured the imagination of many after Kiffin’s firing.

If Petersen leaves Boise State, it will have a ripple effect on the Mountain West Conference, thus Utah State. And that could be a good thing for the Aggies because Petersen is the most successful football coach in college during the past decade.

If USC goes with Petersen, the Utes will see him regularly. Meanwhile, BYU plays at USC in 2021 and 2023.

Petersen is a master of doing what Kiffin couldn’t. He is a great teacher, a scheme genius and gets the very last ounce of ability out of his talent. He also knows quarterback talent and knows how to develop it over time.

A Petersen hire would impact BYU in more ways than one, as the Cougars are contracted to play the Broncos through this decade. Not facing Petersen could be considered a blessing.

Would Petersen leave Boise State?

Before this season, I’d have said, "No, Petersen is likely a lifer. He has a good gig and he’s king in the Banana Belt."

But after the Broncos started the season getting spanked 38-6 by Washington and then losing 41-40 to Fresno State, a few vocal knucklehead Bronco fans wanted Petersen fired.

CBS Sports columnist Bruce Feldman reported Monday he has a contact close to Petersen who says he is “ready for a change. “

Imagine what Petersen could do with USC talent.

As of opening day in the NFL, Southern Cal produced the most NFL players on rosters with 40. Second was LSU with 39, followed by Miami (38), Georgia (36), Florida State and Texas (31).

USC has four former QBs on NFL rosters, including Matt Barkley, Matt Cassel, Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez. Put Petersen in the driver’s seat of that tradition and you have serious product.

Petersen is 48 years old and has gone 86-10 in eight seasons. He has never lost to USU, Utah or BYU.

Regardless of how you look at it, a Petersen go or stay impacts the Utah schools. Pick your poison.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company