SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to Utah's adjustment to the Pac-12, ESPN's Rece Davis points to how the Utes fared after emotional games with BYU the past two seasons. While recognizing there were extenuating circumstances in both outings, Davis noted that the rivalry wins were followed by lopsided losses to Washington (2011) and Arizona State (2012).
"When you get into a conference like the Pac-12 there are very few opportunities for you to bring your B-minus or C-plus game and still come out with a win," said Davis, who was on ESPN's broadcast team Thursday night. "There are more opportunities in most of the other conferences."
Like, say, the Mountain West, where the Utes and teams like BYU and TCU always had a few breaks on the schedule.
"To me that's the difference," Davis said. "So how does Utah solve that? Recruiting, and they're doing that."
Even so, Davis believes it will take the Utes a little while to build things up before being able to play at the level of a team like Oregon every week.
"I absolutely think it's a process. I absolutely think they have the potential to get there," Davis said. "I think Kyle (Whittingham) is a great coach. I think he completely understands what it takes to win in the Pac-12 and more importantly he understands the culture at Utah. I think it'll happen."
In the meantime, though, Davis believes that Utah can compete with the other programs if it plays its 'A' game. The Utes, he continued, have good players and terrific coaching. Becoming a perennial Pac-12 championship contender and ultimately being in the mix for national titles, however, will take time and improvements straight across the board.
"I think they're on the way to doing that," said Davis, who anchors ESPN's "College Football Live" and "College GameDay" programs.
HOME, SWEET HOME: While preparing for his first broadcast at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Davis watched a tape of the Utah-BYU game from earlier this season and said the noise booming through his television set was awesome.
"I think it's a great venue," Davis said. "I think it's a great venue for the Pac-12 and I think it's going to become a snake pit for visiting teams to come here and try to get a win."
Thursday's game was the 16th straight sellout at the 45,017-seat facility.
IN THE AIR: A pregame flyover featured "Utah Man II," a KC-135 tanker operated by the Utah National Guard's 151st Air Refueling Squadron. The aircraft is named after the original "Utah Man," a B-24 bomber that flew in World War II.
SCOUT-A-RAMA: The game drew scouts from the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans and Washington Redskins.
SUPPORTING CAUSES: Coaches from both teams sported patches on their left arms to support "Coach to Cure MD." The American Football Coaches Association is seeking to raise awareness and fund research to combat Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Donations can be made at www.CoachtoCureMD.org or by texting the word "CURE" to 90999.
In addition, the Utes sported pink ribbons on the back of their helmets to promote cancer awareness. They'll wear the decals throughout the month of October.
EXTRA POINTS: Players and coaches from the Utah Jazz watched the game from the Crocker Room in the south end zone as guests of the Utah athletics department. ... Oakland Raiders rookie Tony Bergstrom and other former Utes including Andre Dyson, Scott Mitchell and Barry Sims were in attendance. ... The Utah ski team was honored at a quarter break for its second-place finish at last season's NCAA Championships.
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