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Jacob Wiegand, Deseret News
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham shakes hands with Utah's Matt Gay as the Utes take the field for their Red-White Game on Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Salt Lake City.
We were fortunate to get a win in the Heart of Dallas Bowl against a very good West Virginia team, but it goes in cycles. I don’t think that’s any indication of anything long term or anything like that. —Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham

SALT LAKE CITY — As coach of the only Pac-12 team to win a bowl game last season, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham joked that he was expecting a thank you card from Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott.

“I’m sure it’s in the mail,” Whittingham said during Monday’s Pac-12 spring football teleconference with the media.

Whittingham acknowledged it was a tough year for the conference when it came to bowl success. The Pac-12 went 1-8 overall.

“We were fortunate to get a win in the Heart of Dallas Bowl against a very good West Virginia team,” Whittingham said of the Utes’ 30-14 victory. “But it goes in cycles. I don’t think that’s any indication of anything long term or anything like that. It’s just a situation where some years certain conferences are better than others in bowl play and that’s just how things shook out last year.”

Washington coach Chris Petersen noted it’s nothing he worries about at all. His concern is on what he can control — the Huskies.

“So I don’t know about the whole conference. I don’t know how and why that all shook down,” Petersen said. “I just know that we didn’t play good enough and we’ve got to figure out how to take the next step as a program.”

Bowl success by a conference is often blown out of proportion according to Stanford coach David Shaw.

“We’d love to have a stronger showing,” he explained. “But when it’s all said and done, I think the strength of our conference is understood.”

Last season’s bowl record was among several things — including a rule change on kickoff returns — discussed by the Pac-12 coaches. A sampling of the topics:

North Division

CALIFORNIA: After winning five games in its first season under Justin Wilcox, Cal is determined to make more strides. “We’ve got to continue to develop physically and the intangible part of our team,” he said. Wilcox added that it goes for every position on the squad.

OREGON: New head coach Mario Cristobal noted that the first hour of every spring practice was dedicated to fundamentals. It was part of the team’s overall goal, along with discipline in terms of reducing penalties and culture. The Ducks also sought to get more physical.

OREGON STATE: Changes are being made in Corvallis under new head coach Jonathan Smith, who is a former quarterback for the Beavers. Smith said the major goal in spring ball was to set the tone on how the team practices “in regards to the effort and detail” of what they’re doing.

STANFORD: Although Shaw understands and to a certain degree applauds efforts to make the game safer, he’s a fan of kickoff returns and the Cardinal have had great success with that aspect of the game. “Field position is the basis of this game and to fair catch a ball and automatically move the ball up (to the 25-yard line) was difficult for me to take,” he said.

WASHINGTON: The Huskies, according to Petersen, started over in spring ball. It’s nothing new. Petersen prefers to get back to basics. “We’re trying to teach fundamentals and techniques and that’s our goal,” he said. “That’s what it is every year. It's like we teach them how we want them to practice.”

WASHINGTON STATE: Head coach Mike Leach isn’t big on rule changes. He said there’s not much to show for “monkeying with the rulebook.” As such, he thinks it should stop. The Cougars, meanwhile, are “just focused on steady improvement,” Leach said. “We want to improve at every position.”

South Division

ARIZONA: “Ultimately, football is football.” That’s how new coach Kevin Sumlin addressed his adjustment to life in the Pac-12. He said recruiting efforts are going pretty well. “We’ve got to be accurate in our evaluations,” noted Sumlin, who later commented that the whole team is a work in progress.

ARIZONA STATE: Herm Edwards reminded reporters that he hasn’t just been sitting in a studio over the past few years at ESPN. The former NFL head coach said he visited a lot of campuses in the offseason. “So there’s nothing surprising,” he noted of his transition to the college game. “I wasn’t in a bubble.”

COLORADO: The Buffaloes focused on specific goals in spring ball. “An overall theme was to make sure we were more physical when we came out of spring and that we had a lot of in-game situations because we didn’t finish some games like we’d like last year,” said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre.

UCLA: He’s back. Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly discussed his first spring with the Bruins. Don’t expect an immediate second coming of his cutting-edge attack with the Ducks. “I always think it’s just about adapting what you do schematically to the players that you have,” said Kelly, who added that it's about putting them in position to make plays.

USC: When quarterback Sam Darnold was taken No. 3 overall by the New York Jets in last week’s NFL Draft, Trojans coach Clay Helton was among the well-wishers in the green room with Darnold. Helton said being able to share the emotions and celebration with Darnold’s family was one of the “unique experiences” of his life and “something I won’t forget.”

UTAH: Whittingham was asked about the addition of high-profile coaching hires at Arizona (Sumlin), Arizona State (Edwards) and UCLA (Kelly). “I think it just makes an already strong group of coaches even stronger,” Whittingham said. “There’s a bunch of good coaches in this league and they’ll just add to that.”


2017 Pac-12 bowl results

LAS VEGAS: Boise State 38, Oregon 28

HEART OF DALLAS: Utah 30, West Virginia 14

CACTUS: Kansas State 35, UCLA 17

FOSTER FARMS: Purdue 38, Arizona 35

ALAMO: TCU 39, Stanford 37

HOLIDAY: Michigan State 42, Washington State 17

SUN: North Carolina State 52, Arizona State 31

COTTON: Ohio State 24, USC 7

FIESTA: Penn State 35, Washington 28

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