With three conference games remaining, the Utes are the darlings of the Pac-12 South. Ute Insiders Dirk Facer, Amy Donaldson and Trent Wood discuss where this year’s team ranks among others during the Kyle Whittingham era. They also look ahead to this week’s tough game against Arizona State in the desert, examine some of the players’ unique pregame rituals, and visit with former Ute great Stevenson Sylvester, a member of the undefeated 2009 Sugar Bowl team.
Editor’s note: The following is a transcript of the episode. It's been edited for clarity.
Dirk Facer: On this edition of the Deseret News Ute Insiders podcast, we look back at Utah's 41-10 win over UCLA, look ahead to this weekend's big matchup in Tempe between the Utes and Arizona State; we're joined by Stevenson Sylvester joins us as a guest picker and in our Utah by 5 segment. This and more on the Deseret News Ute Insiders podcast.
Mike Runge: This is Mike Runge and you are listening to the Deseret News Ute Insiders podcast with Dirk Facer, Amy Donaldson, Mike Sorensen and Trent Wood. Go Utes.
DF: All right welcome to another edition of the Deseret News Ute Insiders podcast. I'm Dirk Facer, joined in studio by Amy Donaldson and Trent Wood today. Just a reminder, we are sponsored by the Salt Lake Stallions. Professional football coming to Rice-Eccles Stadium. February 23rd is their inaugural opener. For season tickets, which are as low as $75, call 1-833-A0AF0-2019 or go to SaltLakestallions.com.
Guys before we get started let's get something out of the way. Today is Halloween and Amy is dressed like a burglar today.
Trent Wood: But she's giving away her stolen goods to people for free.
Amy Donaldson: I got a money bag with my costume and my dog is Wonder Woman so I had to be the criminal that she pursued.
DF: Well Amy, what is the candy of choice being given out of the house tonight?
AD: Well since we ate all the Twix bars and most of the Snickers, it's mostly Milky Way and Three Musketeers.
TW: Those poor children
DF: Trent I am not supposed to call you a millennial anymore but I gotta ask you what time you going out and hitting the doors tonight?
TW: No time at all, because I have to work.
DF: Well that's a bummer. We'll have to talk to Kent about that. I gotta ask a big question — the most important thing. Would you guys agree with me that Bottle Caps is the best candy ever invented?
AD: I would not agree with that.
TW: Nobody would agree with you, Dirk.
AD: They're not even made up of food substance. Let me just for the listeners out there — Dirk eats things that are not actually made a food. They're usually from the dollar store
DF: You guys don't like Bottle Caps?
AD: No. He eats that wax candy that has liquid in it.
DF: Who doesn't?
TW: Does he eat the old candy where you can eat the wrappers? I remember those.
AD: I actually took a test a few years ago and I can identify any candy bar by its profile. So you cut it in half and they want to know if you can identify the candy. I got 100 percent on the test. Only person I know who got 100 percent. And I will not eat the waxy stuff. That's not candy.
DF: No actually it's a classy, chalky-flavored candy.
TW: It's like Tums.
AD: Or Neccos.
DF: Exactly, only better.
AD: What's your favorite candy Trent?
TW: Probably Reese's.
AD: Really? So boring. Everyone just says that, they probably don't even eat Reese's.
TW: Peanut butter is great.
DF: Someday I would like to tour the Bottle Cap factory. See where they're made.
AD: Big Cherry Mountain for me.
DF: We gotta get on the football here in a minute, guys. But I like to buy the tubes, I separate them out by colors and put them in their own baggy, the orange ones, the grape ones, the cola ones.
TW: Are you afraid those flavors are going to bleed into the other ones?
DF: I just don't like to mix. And the orange ones, I understand, have vitamin C in them. That's what I was told.
AD: He does this with the mixed vegetables that the U. serves at football games, too. He takes the peas out, the carrots out.
DF: Speaking of good things, the Utes looked awful good against UCLA on Friday. Amy, what impressed you most? I mean, obviously for the second game in a row, they kind of overcame a sluggish start. And then just won going away.
AD: Well, I think most impressive things is that they just maintained their, you know, what they have been building, right. So they, like you say, if something's not working, they figure it out. They go to something different. They're not just stalling for two quarters or three quarters and then winning by field a goal, or the defense isn't it coming up with a score. They have pretty aggressive trick plays and they just play with it. When you watch them they seem much more confident and much more comfortable.
DF: Trent, who stood out? Obviously, Zack Moss, 211 yards, three touchdowns comes to mind. Is that who impressed you most?
TW: Yeah, I mean, I think the most impressive thing was Tyler Huntley didn't have a great game and they didn't need him to. In the previous three wins, he had had great games but they didn't need him to at all and they stuck with Zack Moss and he had the great game and played well and it just showed that they're versatile now and they know how to win.
DF: And Amy alluded to it, obviously some trick plays are working, special teams is coming through, offense, defense. How long do you guys think they can keep all three of these things going and do they need to have all three things going to win the last three games?
AD: I think I understand the question. So I think the defense is always something that they've been able to count on, and even in the games they lost I think their defense — the defense has been you know one of the best in the country hands down. So that's what you build off of and if special teams can be as reliable as it's been in the past, then you really only have to worry about or wonder about can they continue with their offensive energy. And I think as long as Zack Moss — I think it's two guys. It's Zack Moss and Britain Covey. They stay healthy, they have that versatility you're talking about, and as I said a few podcasts ago, I think five podcasts ago, its ground game. They've got to have a ground game whether that's Tyler Huntley leading the rushing or some combination of the running backs led by Moss that has to happen.
DF: Yeah and then you know defense has been something that's obviously kicking into high gear as well and that kind of begins in the middle, actually, with the linebackers. Trent, what do you think? I had a chance to talk to Sharrieff Shah at practice yesterday and he mentioned how Chase Hansen and Cody Barton were kind of the catalyst for this thing because they help the cornerbacks, they communicate, he said they are able to do things they haven't been able to do for the last couple years just because of the skill set of these guys and the fact that they're so athletic and they're so smart about the game. And then obviously a lot of it begins up front too and you get that pressure on the quarterback, it all kind of works in harmony. What are you seeing from the defense? Do you think you're clicking in all three?
TW: I mean for sure. I think it's really interesting, obviously fall camp was a long time ago, but people were doubting the linebackers at Utah, they were doubting that they can stay on the field, they were doubting that they could play well. I think they've clearly proved everybody wrong because Chase Hansen and Cody Barton are as good a linebacker duo as there is in the country.
AD: And I never understood that doubt because I think Cody has proven himself to be above average, right? I remember when he was a freshman or sophomore somebody saying you know, he's not going to get on the field much. They're going to recruit better and better athletes and he just can't keep up. And he's a self-made player, which is what I love about him. Chase on the other hand, super talented, very athletic and I think everybody always expected something awesome from him. He just couldn't stay healthy. So I heard some of those doubts. But I always wondered about it. And I think I had those doubts about Francis Bernard and he's actually been a nice addition.
DF: I think that's the reason I think there was some doubt in there. I think a lot of people, especially BYU fans are more familiar with his game, thought that he'd step in and play right away at Utah and he struggled to get on the field.
AD: I actually didn't think that, but he's actually exceeded my expectations.
DF: What does he have, Trent? Four tackles and one interception on the season and we're more than midway through this thing. So I think Francis Bernard will have a bigger impact next season. But he's a good insurance policy to have this season. As long as Hansen and Barton are doing what they're doing.
AD: You could almost pick any — look at Marquise Blair, Javelin Guidry, I mean, you could pick Maxs Tupai, everybody. You could pick Bradlee Anae and you'd say that's the heart of the defense. You know what I mean? That's why I think the defense is what you're always going to feel comfortable with.
TW: I mean, I saw a stat a couple days ago. Javelin Guidry is the top-rated nickleback in the country.
AD: Not surprising at all. And when you meet him, you think no way. I mean, he's a track star.
DF: What, are you a valley girl now? No way. Gag me with a spoon.
AD: No way. That's what I should have dressed up as.
DF: Well, speaking of gagging with spoons, let's talk about the Pac-12 this past weekend. It was crazy.
TW: It was crazy. I mean, nobody could have predicted that. I saw that if you'd bet $100 on all of the upsets happening, you would have made over 100 grand. That's how unlikely it was.
DF: And not the candy bar.
TW: Not the candy bar. I mean, it would have been apropos for Halloween.
AD: Not as good as a Bottle Caps, but. That's what I love about college football, thought. Don't you think this happens every year, every season we've had this weekend, right? Where there's like these key upsets in one conference or maybe in a couple conferences. And it's what I love. And I think what a lot of people love about college football is these are for the most part, teenage to early 20s athletes still trying to figure themselves out and anything can happen.
DF: Well, how were things at home when the old Buckeyes got beat? I bet that wasn't a fun day at home.
AD: He takes the losses in stride. Now if it was a loss to Michigan we'd have a different story.
TW: That hasn't happened for a while.
AD: Yeah, that's like most of our marriage, it hasn't happened.
DF: Well, you know, there were some of those — talking about upsets, you know, make college football great. But the Pac-12 almost every single game Saturday was an upset. I mean, it was like, there wasn't one or two it was like almost everything.
TW: It was every single one where the underdog that won.
DF: And it opens the door up for the Utes, so if you're a Utah fan it worked out great.
AD: Do you think that also maybe gives some credence to people like my husband who argue the Pac-12's just not that tough?
DF: Yeah, well you know they always like to say they cannibalize on each other and they certainly did that over the weekend.
AD: I mean if there's parity — I always make this argument. Parity is more fun to watch, it's more fun as a coach to coach in, but when you're talking about, you know, nobody wants to see Alabama win a national championship every single year. But you can't argue that they built a dominant program and they do it in a conference that's — their conference goes out and beats other teams, you know. I just wondered about that. But then you also see, like in the postseason, I didn't look up what the postseason record was last year but it was not great. So I just remember that Utah was the only team that won, so what does it say about the conference? And Utah is the only team that it hasn't won a Pac-12 South championship.
DF: Well and now they seem to be on the verge of getting there and they've been down this road before but how good is this Utah football team, Trent? Is this the best Utah football team since they joined the Pac-12?
TW: I think that is inarguable. They're scoring more points than any Pac-12 Utah football team has done, they actually seem like they're the favorite that you could argue in the conference, I know Washington State is ranked ahead of them. But you can argue Utah's the favorite in the conference. I don't think that has ever been the case in the previous years they've been in the conference.
DF: Yeah. Amy, what do you think? Do you think they overcame those two losses to the Washington schools? Have they caught fire last couple weeks?
AD: I've heard a lot of, I guess, conspiracy theories, you know, but for football, about why, did they simplified their offense? Are they doing something different? I see they did what all of us talked about them doing which is they went much more heavily to the ground game and established the run. And when they do that, and as always, and I think most teams go this way, but definitely Utah. It just gives them confidence. There's just not that desperation that they have had when they don't have a lot of rushing yards midway through the second quarter. So to me it's returning to what you're good at. And staying true to the basics, to the fundamentals, and then moving forward. I don't know. I love when people say you can't argue about something because it makes me want to argue about it. So but I think talent-wise, that is probably like, I think that coaches would agree with you. This is the most talented team they've had in the Pac-12. I don't think this has necessarily been the best opportunity for them. I think they've squandered a couple of really great opportunities since they've been in the Pac-12 to win a Pac-12 South or to play in the Pac-12 championship.
DF: I always find it interesting. People say it's the best team and that. Shouldn't they be better every year, technically speaking?
TW: They should. But that's asking a lot because certain players don't achieve, certain players leave. I mean, that's just asking a lot.
AD: Also, football is one where injury is an issue. So you have guys you're counting on and then, you know, your key guy gets hurt. Maybe it's your key emotional guy, maybe it's your key talent guy, but they get hurt and so then the season changes. So I mean, you can't always say every year you should get better, because every year is some combination of chemistry, talent, leadership and not getting hurt at the wrong time.
TW: And one thing that I think fans love to ignore, is other teams can play well, other teams can be good, your team can be great and still lose to another team, because they just are great. And fans struggle with that idea. But I think it's hard to expect a team to always get better because of that.
AD: Yeah, well, and I think you can expect that they're still recruiting on paper, really good athletes. But one thing that I thought was interesting, I hadn't thought about, and I hate the star rankings. I hate the recruiting rankings. But so you have Utah, who doesn't get a lot of those four- or five-star recruits, right? But they seem to do something that I think Mike Leach does, right? They develop players and they develop guys who either walk on or only had one or two offers, you know, you've seen it at SUU and Weber and Utah State where they take really good athletes who are just absolutely dedicated and committed to doing what coaches ask of them, and they turn themselves into just the complete player. I think Cody Barton is an awesome example of this, right? Didn't have a lot offers, they've turned him into a guy who probably could play at the next level now. And I think if you asked two years ago, almost every media person would say he won't play in the NFL. Now everybody's gonna say he has a shot.
DF: Well, guys, we have a special guest coming in a little later, Stevenson Sylvester. Let's compare this Utah team to that Sugar Bowl team in '08, because that's probably arguably the best team Kyle Whittingham has had, obviously as far as record and accomplishments and that. Does this team compare with that team even though Utah does have two losses already?
TW: I know people love the Sugar Bowl win, they love the upset over Alabama and I think it's easily arguable that the top-end talent was similar. But I mean Kyle Whittingham talks about all the time that it's the depth on this team that makes the difference.
AD: This team is better. I mean on paper this team is better. They have more talent, they just do, they have more horses. That's what I think made the Sugar Bowl win so amazing, was that they just dismantled Alabama. They just owned them in every way and they looked like a team that had this kind of talent and depth on the roster and they didn't. And they did it with guys, like I said, that they developed, that they groomed, that they convinced them to buy into a system.
DF: All right well let's jump back a little bit now for the first time ever, obviously, the Rose Bowl's in play.
AD: First time ever?
TW: Not first time ever.
AD: How easily forget all of our heartbreaks.
DF: Back when they went to the Sugar Bowl the Rose Bowl wasn't an option. The Rose Bowl's an option now, that's what I'm trying to say. For the first time there's some cards on the table that have never been there before. Pac-12 South title. They shared one with USC a few years ago but they lost the tiebreaker because of the head-to-head. So an outright division championship, a trip to the Sugar Bowl. Do you think that's hard for these guys not to look ahead? Because they're right on the cusp of accomplishing all these things and you know Coach Whit, only team we're worried about is Arizona State.
AD: That's what I was just gonna say, it's probably hard for us because we don't have to spend every day with Sharrieff Shah and Morgan Scally and Guy Holliday. And if I have those guys breathing down my neck, I would not be thinking about anything but the next hour of my life.
TW: They probably don't even get the opportunity to see any of the other teams except for the one that they're playing. So they don't even have the opportunity to think, hey, maybe we can beat these teams.
AD: My guess is no one dressed up for Halloween. And nobody's eating Bottle Caps.
TW: There's no candy.
DF: Don't bring any roses up there right now. But going into the season I had a chance to go to the Pac-12 media day. And I actually picked the Utes to win the South, thought they'd do well
TW: Either that or he just knew.
DF: Let me ask you two, have the Utes exceeded expectations to this point, in your opinion?
TW: Yeah, I think the way they played the last four games, it's been a different level that Utah has not reached in the past. They would win games before. But they were always really close games. And they'd lose games that were close games. And yeah, they lost to the Washington schools. But since then, they've been a team that nobody else in the Pac-12 can touch.
AD: So I have to evaluate this with two different perspectives. So the perspective of the beginning of the year was this team that's playing now. But once they lost back-to-back games, I thought they've gone in the tank, somehow something's wrong. Maybe Zach Moss is hurt worse than we know. I didn't know what the deal was. But I thought whatever my expectation was in the preseason, and in those first two games, I thought, well, they're not the team. They don't have what we thought they had, right? So preseason, and at camp I thought this is how they would be playing. This is the kind of season they could enjoy. I would have picked as well, same as you. But I definitely lost faith after that second loss. My suspicion was Zach was hurt, or there was some coaching issues. I just thought maybe Gary Andersen coming in caused some, you know, fracture in the coaching. I didn't know. But you know, you speculate in all these ways, that's what happens. And that's why when the wheels come off, it's so hard to get them back on. Because everybody's talking all this stuff that is not positive, is not good, is not helpful. And then you got to try to regroup and actually go out and beat someone, you know, I can't remember what Stanford was ranked, but they were ranked and at their place.
DF: Well, speaking of keeping the wheels on that train, you had the opportunity to do a story on pregame rituals. Can you take us in a little bit about that
TW: I did. This was a fun story to write. It's fun to talk to the guys about not as much football related things. You can see just like the weight lift off their shoulders, when you go and you're like, this is not going to be about football. And they just smile and they're like, I can talk to you now.
AD: Because they're not worried about giving away state secrets.
TW: And so it was just really fun. It turns out that the defensive backs are the party boys, the fun, the excitement on the team. You knew that beforehand, but they definitely emphasized that fact. I know that Josh Nurse, a lot of people don't know him. He doesn't play a lot, but he is the heart and soul of the team essentially, just keeps everybody light and just happy, loves to dance, loves to get people having fun. What was really funny to me was they all have pregame things that they do every week. And yet none of them think that they're traditions or rituals. And then they talk about them and then they figure it out. When I was talking to Julian Blackman. He was telling me the things that he does, like he always listens to the same song before the game, he always leads a dance circle with the DBs, and after about five minutes, he's like yeah, those are probably pregame rituals, which I thought was pretty entertaining.
AD: So pregame game rituals go into, for me, I read your story. And I again, I did think it was really entertaining. And that is on our website deseretnews.com if anyone wants to read it, but it made me think about my own sort of, how you get yourself mentally ready or whatever. And I've loved talking to people about superstitions. You know, do you wear the same socks once you start winning? And I don't know if you guys remember but Cary Whittingham once wore the same pair of shorts every championship game that Timpview High played and then after they lost the championship he quit wearing them. I love those little things because it's a mental edge, it's a little bit of insight into how you talk yourself into going out and giving your best effort every single day.
DF: It's all about fun isn't it?
TW: At the end of the day they love to have fun.
AD: Dirk and I have pregame rituals. Our pregame rituals are to put out jelly beans that taste like — what are they, Bertie Botts?
DF: Keep it on the lowdown, we still want some victims.
AD: We put them out to share with our colleagues and then we sit in the corner and laugh when they gag.
DF: That's what happens when you get into your 50s, entertainment is cheap. Speaking of good entertainment values, how about the Salt Lake Stallions? They're coming to town.
AD: Yeah, no more offseason
DF: Football at Rice Eccles Stadium in February, season tickets as low as $75. Dennis Erickson who ...
AD: One of my all-time favorite coaches is going to be coaching there. And I have already asked him for some good story ideas. So great, great coach. Great human being.
DF: He's a good guy and he helped the Utes, I'd like to think he helped them get to the level that we're at right now too, and obviously recruiting-wise, Zack Moss, and Tyler Huntley.
AD: If you ask the running backs, he knows his stuff.
DF: So as a reminder, if you want season tickets to the Stallions, you can go to their website, SaltLakeStallions.com, or call 1-833-AAF-2019. Real football. There you go.
The Utes obviously have a big test at Arizona State this Saturday. An afternoon game in Tempe. Who would ever guessed it, but I had a chance to catch up with Kyle Whittingham and talk to him about Herm Edwards, who's in his first year as a head coach of the Sun Devils, about whether he was surprised or not that Herm Edwards decided to leave the cozy ESPN broadcast booth and coach college football and he's doing a great job. And here's what Kyle had to say.
Did you have any reaction when Herm Edwards got hired, like that's interesting or any word like that?
Kyle Whittingham: No. Well it was interesting because I wasn't sure that he wanted to coach again. He's a heck of a football coach. I got to know him over the last four or five years at Under Armour functions and so forth and so, great guy, smart guy, charismatic, he's a big personality. And it was surprising but not like, what are they doing? It was a good hire.
DF: That's interesting what Coach Whit had to say about that. Obviously he and Herm Edwards go back few years and should be a great head to head coaching match. You know the Sun Devils have only lost four games this year but none of them have been by more than a touchdown, Trent. Obviously they've been in every game they played this year. And a lot of people thought they were going to be in the cellar this year.
TW: Yeah, I mean I think it just goes to show that Herm Edwards is a lot better of a coach that people thought. And he just got that team prepared against every team they've played and they beat USC at USC which is the first time that's happened in three seasons, I believe, so they clearly are a good team.
DF: That will be a big challenge for the Utes. Solomon Ennis, freshman wide receiver, is from the Phoenix area. He grew up watching Arizona State and the Sun Devils recruited him very heavily, and I had a chance to talk to him about the opportunity to go home and play in front of family and friends and here's what he had to say.
Solomon Ennis: I'm very excited. You know I came to Utah because it's close to home, that was one of the reasons. So my family's for sure going to be there. You know to be in the stadium I used to watch games at now actually playing is going to be fun.
DF: Well Solomon's excited to get back there. You know Sun Devil Stadium's an interesting place. I talked to Coach Whit, it's obviously where Utah won the Fiesta Bowl back in the day. So the stadium holds special memories. But it's also been a very tough place for the Utes to get a victory, even though they won their last time there. Before then it was all the way back to 1976. So you know, they have not played well in Tempe, at least against the Sun Devils, traditionally over the years. Why do you think that is? Do you think that Arizona State just gets an athletic type of player that Utah has a tough time defending? Or is it more to that?
TW: I mean, if you're to believe Coach Whittingham, it's that. They recruit talented players and I think it's pretty easy to see that over the years, ASU's had a lot of really talented players. They never seem to put it all together, but they always seem to have really good players.
DF: And it's always a physical game and the score's always surprising. They've had some close games over the years. But you know, nothing should surprise anybody. Could be a blowout or it can be a tight one. But what do you think as far as what Utah needs to do? Does it all start with Zack Moss? Does he need to be able to establish the ground game and that'll open everything else up, that old cliché? Do you buy that for this game?
TW: Yeah, ASU's defense has been solid. I don't think they're as highly ranked as they appear to be when you watch them, but they've been solid and so I think Utah has to establish that run game and just get comfortable again.
DF: All right, it's time for our Pac-12 South pick-ems. Each week we go head-to-head or side-to-side or here-and-there, trying to pick the winner. Just a reminder, this segment sponsored by Desert News GridPicks. Get on our website, DeseretNews.com, and pick the winners, pick the losers, pick, pick, pick.
Here we go. We got Sly joining us for this segment. Let's start off with Friday night's game. Colorado at Arizona. I'm taking the Wildcats. They showed something against Oregon last week. What it was I don't know, but they showed it so I'm going to take the Wildcats.
TW: Both of these teams are so confusing. I'm gonna go with Colorado because the Pac-12 is ridiculous.
AD: All right. Well, I'm gonna go back to Colorado because I drank that Kool-Aid at the beginning of the season. I'm going to stick with it.
Stevenson Sylvester: So this is just a horrible game all the way around. No, this is definitely a tough decision of the battle of the bads. But I don't know too much about Colorado yet. I mean, they have been my kind of wild card coming into this whole thing. Like they started off great but they weren't playing great people. And then they finally got in the Pac-12 play where good competition is. And they just sucked. So I don't know. I'll take Colorado because I really like their quarterback and receiver. I think they can do something. But, uh, you know, Arizona has had a really tough schedule at playing people. So you never know what's gonna come. But I'll put money on Colorado. I'll be with Amy on this one.
DF: All right. UCLA at Oregon. I think UCLA's pretty bad. So I'm gonna take the Ducks. But the Ducks looked pretty bad in Tucson last week. So tough one to figure but I gotta think Oregon might get on track at least before they come to Salt Lake City.
TW: Yeah I gotta go with Oregon at home. I just think being at home will call them down after whatever abysmal performance they had.
AD: I'm gonna vote with my heart here and say I hope Oregon wins. Because I think that helps Utah if Oregon wins.
SS: Well that's a great look at it. Um, I'll go with Oregon, but I don't think it's going to be a blowout. I think it's gonna be a good game. I think Chip Kelly is going to put a really good game plan together. UCLA, I say it was a blow out for Utah against UCLA. Just because of the matchup. But I think UCLA is actually coming on to something, they're figuring themself out. They cause a lot of turnovers and I think causing a lot of turnovers will do some damage to Oregon. You know at home I still think they have the advantage but I don't think it'll be a blowout because UCLA did really good against Washington and Oregon barely beat Washington. So I think it'll be a close game but I give the edge to Oregon.
DF: Sly, you've played this game obviously, the rest of us have played tiddlywinks, but the Chip Kelly factor going back to Eugene. Is that going to weigh on the team, is that going to make it a very emotional game so it's gonna be more emotional for UCLA or has he been away from Oregon for so long maybe the fans will get into it but the Ducks won't necessarily?
SS: I think the media will play it up a little bit but I don't think it'll be a huge factor like that. He had really good success while he was at Oregon for those few years. But you know I think he has been away enough and they've had success without him there and I think Oregon is definitely going to be wanting to make sure that they're past the Kelly era. So you know I think Chip Kelly would like to be back in that stadium, it's going to feel good for him but UCLA doesn't care and I don't think it's going to be a huge factor.
DF: All right USC at Oregon State. I'm glad that we don't have to cover that one in person. I'm going to take the Trojans. I think they're playing for Clay Hilton's job now.
TW: I mean do we know who's starting at quarterback for USC? I know last week it was their third-string guy and that did not help them win.
DF: Who was it, Jack Sears? Former Utah recruit. I'm not sure who's going to be out there but you know, I think there's a sense of desperation there right now and they made a few coaching changes as far as play-calling and that, but I think USC's really got their backs to the wall and if they lost to the Beavers, goodbye Clay, I think.
TW: Yeah I think USC's got to win this game. Otherwise Bronco Mendenhall might be going west.
AD: Starting that rumor right now? Well I'm going with USC. I think USC has too much talent and they have shown signs of being able to get it together. So I would probably pick them against most of the bottom teams in the in the South. So I'm going to go with USC.
SS: I am going to go Oregon State. They had an emotional game last week in Colorado, going into overtime, some of their passes were kind of bad, but I think winning those tight games brings a lot of emotion to a team in rolling into next week and USC has just been beat up. Especially since playing us, we took out two quarterbacks. I'm gonna take Oregon State this weekend, a surprise. I think it's going to be great at Oregon State, so they get Reser Stadium and nobody's played — you guys haven't played there but that stadium is crazy. It was was RoJo's first game as a Ute our sophomore year and he just remembers he was getting heckled by those guys. He'll tell you to this day that that was one of his funniest, worse type games because of the crowd. I think their emotions and them having such a great week and great overtime win last week against Colorado, that I think they're going to overcome and beat USC. Because they match up well against USC. You look in the past 15 years, even the Reggie Bush era, Oregon State is the team to beat USC. And football, sports in general, is all about matchups. This is why I take it week by week, matchup by matchup, who's playing, who's not, and I got Oregon State this week.
DF: Now let's go to the big ones, at least as far as this area is concerned. Utah at Arizona State. Nothing would surprise me. There's been some crazy scores in this series over the years and you just never know who's going to show up.
AD: Dirk's going with ASU.
DF: But, but, but the Utes have everything to play for right now and bottom line is I think they're just a better team. And if everything keeps clicking like it has, and even if you don't get all three phases, two of the three should be enough to get it done down there. But the Sun Devils have proven they've been a tough out this year. Their biggest loss, like we said earlier, was by seven points this year. Four games by seven points. They're in every game so a blowout is unlikely, but in this series, anything's possible.
TW: It's tough. I mean I'm going to go with Utah and I think they win by two touchdowns but I think it's close into the fourth quarter and they score a late touchdown to pull away.
AD: And I predict that touchdown will be a defensive touchdown.
TW: By Chase Hansen?
AD: I predicted that in a different game. I just think they have a defensive touchdown. I mean they've been close and they've had a couple of great picks and they have had some but I totally agree with you they are much better team. I think the nervousness comes from their history.
DF: Let's go to the expert now.
SS: Of course Utah has the edge. I'm not biased at all. After being at the facility, you know the team is really taking this seriously, as you said Dirk, they are focused, that Pac-12 championship's right in our grasp, you know it's ours to lose right now. So we are focused, after missing it the past five years, of being in that position to go to the Rose Bowl. I think that is definitely in our sights and the new AD Mark Harlan is definitely adamant about that being the No. 1 goal, is getting to this Rose Bowl. And so you know, this is just one step.
I did an interview about three, four weeks ago. And I said Arizona State was kind of my worry over Oregon. But it's going to be 80-degree weather, we're going to be dressed in all white, that plays a factor. Don't let nobody tell you. If you look good, you play good. But um, you know, I do think this is going to be a really good matchup. You know, Arizona State has just been really inconsistent this year. You know, they play good against some teams and then other teams they haven't. So we don't know what team is going to show up for them. But I do think Utah has the edge and we're just rolling it right now. What the last four, five games we scored 40 points, like, yes, thank you. This is what we've needed for 20 plus years ever since the Fiesta Bowl. This is our time. And I think we're going to handle them very well. Just because we're so locked in as a team right now. And I say we'll still win by 17 plus points.
DF: All right. Well, appreciate you guys. Amy?
AD: I just wonder, you've been working on a special project. There's a chance for fans to go up and see some of the past stars play. Why don't you tell us about that?
SS: Yes, yes. Yes. So my nonprofit foundation is kicking up the holiday season so it's going to be awesome. I'm glad we get to do this on Halloween, right before. But I am doing a turkey bowl, a huge turkey bowl, and what we're doing is we're getting all the universities together and getting their alumni, so some of your past favorite players are going to do a 7-on-7 turkey bowl tournament. We'll host it at Rice-Eccles Stadium, everything's all finalized now, so all we need is you guys. And if the community wants to put together their own teams, go to our website at athletesstrong.org, register your teams. It's $200 a team, 10 persons per team so $20 a person pretty much. You know it's a family fun event, bring your family, we'll have Dallin Rodgers, who's my partner in Athlete Strong, he's putting together this immaculate kid zone.
So we'll have food trucks, kid zones, tons of raffles, it's just going to be a fun environment from 9 a.m. to noon on Nov. 17 and it's gonna be awesome. I think everybody will really enjoy it and all these proceeds will go to funding our winter service events. Our Shop with Sly, Burrito Project, and our Warm the Homeless events.
DF: Sly, who are some of the players that are going to be there?
SS: Well from Utah State, I've been putting together a couple of players, I don't know them entirely but I know JoJo Sawyer we're trying to get Chuckie Keaton and just some of the other players that are still around. Weber State's the same. Utah, right now, I got RoJo (Robert Johnson), Reggie Dunn, me, Matt Martinez, Jordan Wynn's gonna be our quarterback, we'll have Justin Taplin-Ross be our other safety. I got to do a couple more recruiting up and finalizing the other details. There are still a lot of guys in the valley so it's gonna be nice. We'll probably have Derek Richards come out and be our other receiver, I got David Nixon who I do the news with on KSL, he's putting together a BYU team so. So it's gonna be fun. So yeah, we'll have six community teams. You guys get to come compete against some of your all-time favorite University of Utah players and it's going to be really fun. We'll have a DJ, music's gonna be blasting, and just a really all in all fun event.
DF: Appreciate it and just before we continue, I just wanted to let everyone know that your charitable works in this community are outstanding, and you should be commended for that, and I know you don't do it for that, but you do a great job.
SS: Thank you. Appreciate it. You know, it's fun for me. You know, a lot of people think of it as like a task. But you know, it's definitely something to kind of change up what I do on the normal and I love doing it and it's very easy, just getting people involved and giving back.
DF: Now the skinny guy that was holding the ball like a loaf of bread up at Utah State back in the day.
SS: Were you the one who said that?
DF: I think your coach said it, but it's turned out great. And seriously, thank you for all you do for the community. It's appreciated. It's time for our Utah by 5 segment. This week, Amy catches up with Sly.
Tom Barberi: I'm Tom Barberi and it's time for Utah by 5. Where we catch up with the people who built the program we love.
AD: OK. Sly, so how the heck are you?
SS: I'm good. I'm doing real good.
AD: OK. So first, introduce yourself to people who are not familiar with you.
SS: Well, my name is Stevenson Sylvester. I played linebacker here in 2006 to 2009, four straight bowl games and then got drafted to the Pittsburgh Steelers for four years. And then went to the Buffalo Bills my last year before tearing my knee. Now I'm back here in Salt Lake City.
AD: You have a house here, right? You've taken a residency here in the Beehive State.
SS: I have bought my house here. I love it here. I love the community and try to take advantage of being here in Salt Lake.
AD: Yeah. And so what have you been doing? We know about your charitable works, which we will get to, but what have you been doing? Are you done with football now for good?
SS: Yeah, I'm done with football. I mean, it would have been nice a couple years ago if this league had got started up, then I could have been a Salt Lake Stallion. But I'm done with football. Now I'm focused on entrepreneurship and community service work with my nonprofit organization. And just well, anybody knows, if you're creating a startup it takes a lot of time and energy and I'm doing a lot of that on my own and outsourcing a lot of work and trying to find help everywhere I can get it.
AD: So you started the Shop with Sly kind of just you doing it yourself, right. You just grabbed a couple of your friends and you contacted organizations and then you went shopping for underprivileged kids. Right? So, it's mushroomed into this much bigger thing, you did the Burrito Project, I mean, you've brought in a bunch of stuff, but it became Athletes Strong, where you were involved with some of the other athletes. When did it get bigger?
SS: Yeah, so I started Shop with Sly. Shop with Sly is, I take 10 to 15 kids shopping for the holidays. I partner with a Title I organization, kids who are underprivileged and won't really have a big Christmas. I started it while I was in Pittsburgh. So I get a couple former teammates of mine and we get together and we just partner them with kids and take them around the store and go on a shopping spree. I give each kid $100 and it's remarkable.
AD: It's a blast and I've covered it a few times, that's actually how I met you. When did it become Athletes Strong and kind of expand all these other you know, community projects?
SS: Yeah, so three years ago, Dallin and Matt, you know, former teammates of mine, at Utah, they see what what I've been doing the last couple years. And you know, they have their own organizations. And so like, let's collaborate, we're all former teammates, we all love giving back to the community, how can we do this together and make this efficient? And so we created Athletes Strong, had a really great first year winter week of service and it just ballooned into something great. The community really responded and really found use for our nonprofits. So we just started doing things during the year. And of course, the winter week of service is our main gig, so starting to kick that back up here soon.
AD: So we encourage everybody to go to athletesstrong.org and find ways to support. I want to know what's your favorite memory of playing, of your college football days?
SS: There's really so many, you know, I can take a favorite moment from us arguing on the field, to us having barbecues over the summer. It's just the camaraderie of football and what it does to your personality and your character is just tremendous. So there's just so many things that I take with me today that I remember of developing that back in college. And so my favorite memories is just really everything. You know, my senior year was crazy. I took 54 units of classes, just so I can graduate early, so I didn't have to take it after I got done playing football in the NFL. And so I was stressed out with school and captain of the football team. And so senior year was crazy. I remember all that. And then, of course, the undefeated year was insane. And my freshman year, I got to play with the NFL great Eric Weddle and have a great D-lineman of Paul Soliai in front of me, so there's plenty of memories over the years.
AD: Is there a lesson that you've learned from football that you don't think you could have learned from another sport?
SS: Definitely. Diligence and, and how much hard work really pays off. And if you really believe in something, it'll happen. And that goes back to my process from high school is, you know, I really didn't have much belief in myself. But, you know, I went out there and I played the game of football, basketball, best of my abilities. And, you know, the best came out, you know, Utah saw me, got on their radar. I got a scholarship Next thing you know, I'm starting in the Rose Bowl. My first freshman game. Which is this dream come true to a sports kid. And then, you know it developed, got an undefeated season, become captain of that team, graduate college early, get to the NFL, which is another childhood dream, you know. Play with some of the most remarkable players that you look up to. So diligence, hard work and really believing in yourself can take you so far. So never doubt yourself. If you really believe in it, go get it and really watch everything come to fruition.
AD: Thank you so much for joining us, really appreciate it. It's always awesome to catch up with you and I look forward to writing about some of these things you're going to be working on.
SS: Yeah, let's do it. Appreciate it. Thank you.17 comments on this story
DF: All right, that's it for this week, guys. Thanks for joining us. You want to send us a question we have an email address. It's [email protected] Feel free to send us your questions, we'll try to answer them. If we don't like them we won't, if we do we will. Pretty simple that way. And just reminder to get your season tickets to the Salt Lake Stallions, they begin play up in February up at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Dennis Erickson, former Utah assistant coach, is the head coach of the Stallions. You can get season tickets for as low as $75 by calling 1-83-AAF-2019 or go to SaltLakestallions.com. Thanks, we'll see you next week.