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Dick Harmon: State of Utah hosts 3 outstanding college football coaches Saturday

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 9 2013 7:20 p.m. MDT

Stanford head coach David Shaw, center, lifts the trophy following their 20-14 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) (Mark J. Terrill, ASSOCIATED PRESS) Stanford head coach David Shaw, center, lifts the trophy following their 20-14 win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) (Mark J. Terrill, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The state of Utah hosts three great college football coaches Saturday. Their skill, acumen and remarkable football resumes are tremendous.

We could be talking about Kyle Whittingham and Utah’s great success since the influence of the Whittingham family came to the hill in 1994. We could be talking about BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, whose Cougar defenses have been remarkable. We could be talking about Utah State coach Matt Wells, who helped Gary Andersen rebuild the Aggies' program before taking over as head coach last winter.

But this is about three visitors.

On Saturday, the Aggies will host Boise State’s Chris Petersen, who has a .897 winning percentage with the Broncos. The Cougars will host Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson, a pioneer of the spread option. The Utes will host Stanford's David Shaw, who has helped fashion the Cardinal from an army of academic nerds to tough-guy contenders and Oregon beaters.

Boise State head coach Chris Petersen and Kellen Moore (11) talk with an official during the second half of an NCAA college football game against TCU on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011 in Boise, Idaho.  TCU went on to upset No. 5 Boise State 36-35.   (AP Photo/Idaho Press-Tribune, Charlie Litchfield) MANDATORY CREDIT (Charlie Litchfield, AP) Boise State head coach Chris Petersen and Kellen Moore (11) talk with an official during the second half of an NCAA college football game against TCU on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011 in Boise, Idaho. TCU went on to upset No. 5 Boise State 36-35. (AP Photo/Idaho Press-Tribune, Charlie Litchfield) MANDATORY CREDIT (Charlie Litchfield, AP)

It should be quite the show.

Shaw has Stanford ranked No. 5 this week. As the school's head coach, Shaw has led the Cardinal to back-to-back BCS game appearances. In 2012, Stanford won the Pac-12 and beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. Shaw's team is explosive, tough and NFL physical.

The 41-year-old is the son of former NFL Detroit Lions coach Willie Shaw. His experience as an NFL assistant coach with the Eagles, Raiders and Ravens set him up to join Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego and then as offensive coordinator under Harbaugh at Stanford. There, he coached Heisman Trophy runner-up Andrew Luck and helped set back-to-back school scoring records.

Meanwhile, Johnson is a master of the triple-option flexbone, a style of play that he made famous at Navy, where his team led the nation in rushing during his final three seasons. He won the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year award while at Navy.

When he was the offensive coordinator at Hawaii, he developed and tutored a player named Ken Niumatalolo, who followed him to Navy and then took over as head coach.

Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson poses for a photo with Utah head coach Kyle Wittingham and the Sun Bowl Trophy at the annual team luncheon in El Paso, Texas, on Friday, Dec. 30, 2011. Utah is scheduled to face Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl NCAA college football game on Dec. 31. (AP Photo/The El Paso Times, Ruben R Ramirez)  EL DIARIO OUT; JUAREZ MEXICO OUT; IF USE ON LAM OR LAT AND EL DIARIO DE EL PASO OUT; NO INTERNET; NO MAGS; NO SALES (Ruben R Ramirez, AP) Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson poses for a photo with Utah head coach Kyle Wittingham and the Sun Bowl Trophy at the annual team luncheon in El Paso, Texas, on Friday, Dec. 30, 2011. Utah is scheduled to face Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl NCAA college football game on Dec. 31. (AP Photo/The El Paso Times, Ruben R Ramirez) EL DIARIO OUT; JUAREZ MEXICO OUT; IF USE ON LAM OR LAT AND EL DIARIO DE EL PASO OUT; NO INTERNET; NO MAGS; NO SALES (Ruben R Ramirez, AP)

Johnson convinced Georgia Tech’s administration he could take his system to the ACC and win games. When he came in December 2007, the Yellow Jackets were on NCAA probation with only 76 scholarship players. His roster included 75 freshmen and sophomores. In 2008, when experts said he’d win just three games, he led Georgia Tech to a 9-4 season, including November wins against Florida State, Miami and Georgia. His team ranked No. 14 in the BCS standings and No. 15 in the AP Top 25.

Johnson’s trademark option ranks No. 7 in the NCAA in rushing this season with a 300 yards per game average.

It could be said Boise State’s Petersen is the hottest coach entity on the market. He is the only coach in history to win the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award twice — in 2006 and 2009. And he was the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year in 2010. His Broncos have won two BCS bowls, the 2007 and 2010 Fiesta Bowls.

A great developer of talent, Petersen is known for getting his team to execute at near perfect levels early and late. His offensive and defensive lines play to their maximum abilities and his skill players have been among the nation’s best.

No college coach can equal his 87-10 record. He has never lost to Utah, BYU or Utah State.

Peterson replaced Dan Hawkins in December 2005. The head coach will earn nearly $2 million this season as boosters have worked hard to keep him in town.

These three guys are good. In their respective realms, they are trendsetters, headline-makers and respected around the country for producing upper-echelon game plans and entertaining football.

On Saturday, this trio will be in full fall bloom in Utah.

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

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