Jason Olson, Deseret News archives
In this April 2007 file photo, Jason Buck throws the ball on the flea flicker under pressure from Peter Tuipulotu as the two join other former cougars in the Legends game before the annual spring scrimmage for the BYU football team.

SALT LAKE CITY — Regardless of which players BYU and Utah signed — or didn't sign — to national letters of intent on Wednesday, former Outland Trophy winner Jason Buck says both schools will continue to thrive.

"They're both going to be top-25 programs, where they have been," said the part-owner of the Utah Blaze.

But in comparing the teams, he said BYU's picture is fuzzier, thanks to the absence of a conference.

"Obviously the Pac-12 is big-time for Utah, a big-time move," Buck said. "Norm Chow (offensive coordinator) is a great hire for them. You can't replace that kind of experience. Kyle (Whittingham) has the fire in his belly and he'll have a great team. Now they've got to have a unique formula to compete in the Pac-12."

Buck added that Utah needs to anchor its recruiting on athletes from the Intermountain area to be successful.

He attended high school in St. Anthony, Idaho, and Ricks College before becoming an All-America at BYU.

Buck went on to say that "my verdict is still out on the independent thing" with BYU.

"I don't have my arms completely wrapped around that," said the Highland resident. "There are certain risks, and hopefully it turns out well. But it's better off, I think, belonging to the Pac-12, a big conference, than being independent.

"But BYU is unique and might be able to pull it off, with the worldwide audience and ESPN and other things. It's a good formula, if they win along with it."

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The danger for BYU, he continued, is that if the Cougars don't win early in the season, interest could wane because most of the team's late-season games will be against smaller WAC schools. While BYU plays Mississippi, Texas, Oregon State and Utah early next year, its last five games are against Idaho State, Louisiana Tech, Idaho, New Mexico State and Hawaii.

"If you don't go undefeated or 4-1 in the first part of the season, in the big games, then in the second half of the season, when they have a much weaker schedule and aren't playing for a conference championship, (interest) could get really weak," Buck said.

Buck's son Tyson was a redshirt freshman linebacker for the Utes last season.

e-mail: rock@desnews.com