The NFL ditched its traditional NFC-vs.-AFC format for this year's Pro Bowl, going instead with two team captains picking the sides just like the pickup games of your youth. We here at the Deseret News were inspired to try something similar with Utah's college teams.
Our player pool was any Utah college football player who participated in the 2013 season. Teams were selected by DeseretNews.com staff writers. Brandon Judd and Lafe Peavler selected for Team Deseret while Trent Christiansen and Carter Williams picked for Team News. Each team was asked to submit a list of its top two players for each position (11 on offense, 11 on defense, three specialists and one head coach). The team captains submitted their first and second choices for each position. Any identical No. 1 selection alternatively was given to the other team.
The results were interesting. Tell us which team would have won this fictional game, and we'll announce the results after Sunday's Pro Bowl.
Who made Team Deseret and Team News? Read our explanations for the picks.
Taysom Hill, BYU
Hill made history in 2013 by becoming the first BYU quarterback to rush for more than 1,000 yards while passing for more than 2,000. Hill dazzled us with his rushing ability to begin the season, particularly as he rushed for 259 yards and three touchdowns against Texas. However, he struggled with the passing game as he threw just one touchdown pass in the first five games of the season. That said, he threw 18 touchdowns in the final eight games of 2013. While Hill still has work to do, he has the potential to join BYU’s exclusive club of elite quarterbacks.
Chuckie Keeton, USU
Keeton was the best quarterback in the state and a potential Heisman candidate before he tore his ACL midway through the season. In six games, he threw for 1,388 yards and 18 touchdowns. He was on pace for 42 touchdowns on the season, which would have been good for second best in the nation.
Joey DeMartino, Utah State
DeMartino didn't start the 2013 season as Utah State's starting running back, but by the end of the year, he had proven himself as the most reliable ball carrier in the Aggie backfield. His 1,221 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, to go along with a 5.5 yard-per-carry average, were the most impressive overall stats from any running back available in this draft.
Paul Lasike, BYU
Laiske is an All-American, but not in football. The New Zealander is an All-American rugby player. While Hill and Jamaal Williams received the bulk of BYU’s carries, Lasike had two big games in 2013: 87 yards and a touchdown vs. Texas and 101 yards vs. Notre Dame. While his numbers at first glance may not be that impressive, Lasike averaged 5.9 yards per carry in 2013.
Jamaal Williams, BYU
Lil’ Baby J went beast mode for the Cougars this season, rushing for 1,233 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 games. His best game came against Nevada when he carried for 219 yards on 15 carries. Williams is still only 18 years old.
Bubba Poole, Utah
Poole had his ups and downs but came up big in the Utes’ 27-21 upset over Stanford in 2013. He ended the year with 836 total yards from scrimmage and two scores, and has the ability to make plays. He finished second on the Utes with 79.7 all-purpose yards per game.
Cody Hoffman, BYU
Hoffman is by far the most coveted receiver here. His career numbers broke five BYU records, and he's proven time and again to be a multi-talented weapon. Thirty-three career touchdown receptions? More than 3,600 receiving yards? And remember, he also spent time returning kickoffs and punts. Hoffman is an all-around talent that instantly improves any team.
Bruce "JoJo" Natson, Utah State
Natson makes this team due to his versatility as a player and not just his ability as a wide receiver. He’s a solid return man on special teams as he returned two punts for touchdowns this season. Furthermore, he’s a dangerous man in the Wildcat formation, and he’s more than capable of scoring rushing touchdowns as UNLV learned. Natson finished 2013 with 844 all-purpose yards, seven touchdowns and a two-point conversion.
Dres Anderson, Utah
Anderson caught 53 passes for 1,002 yards for the Utes this season, the fifth best mark in the Pac-12. His best game was against BYU where he went off for eight catches and 141 yards.
Travis Reynolds, Utah State
Despite adjusting to a different quarterback, Reynolds caught 51 passes for 832 yards and four touchdowns in 2013. More impressively, he averaged 16.3 yards per grab.
Jake Murphy, Utah
Murphy's opportunities to shine in 2013 were hampered by an injury midseason, but just look at his numbers when he returned to the field to see what he can do. In the Utes' final three games he had 15 catches for 238 yards and four touchdowns. He nearly went over 100 yards receiving twice. Murphy isn't just a blocking tight end; he makes you pay in the pass game, too.
Joe Don Duncan, Dixie State
The hidden gem of Utah collegiate football played 2013 in St. George — who knew? Duncan led the Red Storm with 71 catches for 1,045 yards and 13 scores. Not only was he named a Division II All-American, he was also invited to play in both the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl.
Tyler Larsen, Utah State
The center is the most underrated position in football, and Tyler Larsen is head and shoulders better than any other in the state. Larsen has been a first team all-conference selection since he was a sophomore, but he received a new honor this season. USA Today selected Larsen as a second team All-American. Larsen was also a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, which is the national award for the nation’s best center. To top it all off, Larsen will play in this year’s Senior Bowl.
Brayden Kearsley, BYU
The freshman was BYU’s highest rated freshman recruit entering the 2013 season. He appeared in 10 games in a solid freshman campaign.
Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah
The sophomore Poutasi went into the 2013 season a potential All-America candidate and backed up that assessment for the most part. He was the best player available at the position and Poutasi proved durable in 2013, starting every game at left tackle for the Utes. That kind of durability isn't always easy to find among the big men on the offensive line.
Ryker Mathews, BYU
It’s easy to forget how banged up the BYU offensive line was this season, and Mathews was no exception. Mathews had double-hip surgery after the 2012 season and he had to deal with spinal injuries this season. He definitely gets points for toughness for simply being able to play. Regardless, Mathews did well on an offensive line that went through many rotations in 2013.
Michael Yeck, BYU
The 6-foot-8 Yeck started every game in 2013. He was named to the College Sports Madness All-Independent Third Team.
Cody Burgess, SUU
The 6-foot-6, 315-pound Burgess helped anchor the SUU offensive line. He ended up on the third-team all-Big Sky list.
Sini Tauauve'a, Utah State
Tauauve’a not only is a JC transfer, he also used to be a defensive lineman. The Snow College transfer wasn’t even a starter to begin the season, but Utah State needed him to step up after Kyle Whimpey suffered a season-ending knee injury. And step up he did. Tauauve’a’s effort was instrumental in the Aggies’ improbable division title and bowl win. He did an excellent job of protecting freshman QB Darell Garretson after Chuckie Keeton’s season ended with a knee injury against BYU.
Gavin Farr, Southern Utah
Why did we pick Southern Utah's starting center this year at a guard position? Versatility. In 2012, Farr started 11 games at left guard, and if we could have the ability to move around some pieces on the offensive line to best utilize the trenches, we'll do it. Plus, Farr is getting some attention as a potential NFL draftee. What's not to love?
Solomone Kafu, BYU
Kafu played in every game for the Cougars in 2013. He was named to the College Sports Madness All-Independent Second Team.
Nick Nissen, SUU
Nissen switched over from defensive tackle to offensive guard over the offseason and had a productive season on the offensive line for the Thunderbirds, which ended with him landing a spot on the All-Big Sky honorable mention.
B.J. Larsen, Utah State
In a photo from this year's Utah-Utah State football game, there is a picture of Larsen taunting the crowd with a yellow flag not far away. We love this guy's attitude, and his stats show how disruptive he can be: in 2013, he had 13 tackles, eight tackles for loss, four sacks and three quarterback hurries. He's a solid building block for a stout front seven.
Bronson Kaufusi, BYU
Not many defensive linemen in the FBS can say that they’ve also played basketball at the Division I level. While Kaufusi averaged just 1.1 points per game, he filled a need for BYU last season. However, he’s a much better defensive lineman than power forward. In 2013, Kaufusi made 37 tackles, seven tackles for loss, four sacks and an interception that he returned for a touchdown.
Eathyn Manumaleuna, BYU
Manumaleuna has been around the BYU program for a long time, and while he may be remembered more for his field goal block against UCLA in 2007 or his pass deflection late against Washington in 2010, he finished his Cougar career strong in 2013. Manumaleuna had a career-high 48 tackles and seven tackles for loss this season, all while splitting time between defensive end and nose tackle.
Trevor Reilly, Utah
Reilly was named to the first team all-conference in a loaded Pac-12. The 6-foot-5 defensive end finished the season with 100 tackles and nine sacks. Reilly is the latest of great Utah defensive linemen, and will certainly make an impact in the NFL.
James Cowser, SUU
The Big Sky has had a recent pipeline of solid D-ends in the NFL. Cowser might be the next. He led SUU with 10.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss (tied for seventh most in all of FCS) in 2013 — despite playing the spy more often than most defensive ends. “Cowstown” eventually compiled 77 tackles, blocked two field goals, picked off a pass and ended up second-team All-Big Sky.
Tenny Palepoi, Utah
Palepoi anchored a strong front seven for the Utes. He finished the season with 53 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He was also named to the second team in the Pac-12.
Jake Doughty, Utah State
Doughty was the unquestioned leader of a Utah State defense that had plenty of talent to go around. Last year he had 138 tackles, which was second in the state of Utah, and was a key player on the USU defense that finished No. 7 nationally in scoring defense (17.1 points per game), No. 8 in rushing defense (106.7 yards per game) and No. 12 in total defense (330.9). Doughty ended the year by being named the defensive MVP of the Poinsettia Bowl.
Kyler Fackrell, Utah State
Doughty and Fackrell make quite a pair, and it's nice to have them both on this roster. After a stellar freshman year, Fackrell impressed again in 2013, with 82 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, five sacks (second of the team), three quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. His interception return for a touchdown against Hawaii showed his playmaking ability.
Uani 'Unga, BYU
The Oregon State transfer was BYU’s workhorse on defense. He led the Cougars with 143 total tackles, with an average of 11.0 tackles per game. That’s good enough for No. 6 in the country. Plus, ‘Unga had 7.5 tackles for loss, forced two fumbles and recovered one. Wherever the play went, ‘Unga was ready to make the stop. ‘Unga’s style of play isn’t the flashiest, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a harder worker than him. He’s a sturdy, reliable inside linebacker that simply doesn’t miss tackles. What more do you want?
Zach Vigil, Utah State
There's no complaining about taking three Utah State linebackers here, and there was a battle between brothers Zach and Nick Vigil for this spot. While Nick had some impressive games late in the season to close the gap on his brother, including a 3.5-sack day against Wyoming, Zach had the better overall year. His 2013 stats included 124 tackles, including a team-high 47 solo, 12.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception.
Kyle Van Noy, BYU
The senior was a second or third team All-American in almost every poll. He disrupted offenses week after week, often while being double-teamed. He finished the season with 70 tackles and four sacks, capping off a great four-year career. He is projected to be a first or second round draft pick.
Jared Norris, Utah
Norris finished with 64 tackles and 4.5 for loss in 2013, while adding a couple of sacks. He also forced a pair of fumbles.
Matt Holley, SUU
Holley led SUU with 110 tackles while adding 13.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown. Not bad for someone serving an LDS mission a year ago.
Anthony Morales, Weber State
Morales was one of the lone bright spots for a poor Weber State team this season. He finished the season with 100 tackles and two sacks. He was the only Wildcat to receive postseason honors, being named to the third team in the Big Sky conference.
Robertson Daniel, BYU
The Cougars lost a lot of players at cornerback before the season began. Trenton Tramell and Jordan Johnson both were lost for the season due to knee injuries, and Jacob Hannemann decided to play professional baseball instead of staying at BYU. That left a lot of pressure on JC transfer Daniel. To his credit, Daniel did well with 66 tackles, two interceptions, nine pass breakups, two forced fumbles and a sack.
Jordan Johnson, BYU
This was unexpected, ending up with two BYU corners and one who didn't play in 2013. Still, Daniel was a solid JC guy in his first year and Johnson, of all the cornerbacks in the state of Utah, showed perhaps the greatest potential going into 2013 before an injury ended his year. His athletic ability and previous work earn Johnson the nod here.
Nevin Lawson, Utah State
Lawson was arguably the best defensive back in the state of Utah this season. He was named to the first team all-conference in the MWC and third team All-American in the College Sports Madness poll. He had four interceptions and a touchdown on the season.
Keith McGill, Utah
McGill made things difficult for wide receivers almost all season, deflecting 13 passes on the year before ending up on the Pac-12 honorable mention list. He had just one pick, but made the most of it, cashing it in for a 19-yard touchdown.
Daniel Sorensen, BYU
BYU will miss its senior leader in the secondary. He finished the season with 65 tackles, two interceptions, 12 pass breakups and four tackles for loss in Bronco Mendenhall’s blitz-happy scheme. Together with Craig Bills, these two safeties form a formidable team in BYU’s “bend but don’t break” defense.
Craig Bills, BYU
There was a case made here to add either Utah State's Maurice Alexander or Utah's Eric Rowe. But there is something about Bills' tenacity on the field that was so appealing. His 2013 stats display his disruptiveness: 78 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
Brian Suite, Utah State
Suite recorded five interceptions and 77 tackles on the 2013 season. He was an honorable mention in the Mountain West Conference postseason awards.
Tommy Collet Jr., SUU
Collet finished 2013 with 74 tackles, three interceptions and deflected seven passes. He ended 2013 as a second-team All-Big Sky list member.
Andy Phillips, Utah
Phillips is a reliable kicker, as he made 85 percent of his field goals and all of his extra point attempts in 2013. Furthermore, he’s a solid kicker from distance. Last season he made nine of his 11 attempts from 40 to 51 yards. He may not have the biggest leg in the country, but there are plenty of teams who lost big games for the lack of a reliable kicker.
Colton Cook, SUU
Cook made an SUU school-record 20 field goals in 2013, finishing his senior year 20-of-25 on his field goals and tallying 84 points on the season. He was named a third-team All-American and first-team all-Big Sky.
Bo Bolen, Weber State
Bolen can contribute in a variety of ways, from returning kickoffs and punts to taking carries as the Wildcats' lead running back. In 2013, he averaged 90.6 all-purpose yards per game and scored on a 100-yard kickoff return. His ability to make plays in several facets of the game made this a compelling pick.
Adam Hine, BYU
Hine was the 12th best return man in the nation, and that’s not counting the big returns called back for penalties. He was named first team independent All-American and was a threat to score every time he touched the ball.
Tom Hackett, Utah
Hackett earned All-Pac-12 honors this season after leading the conference in yards per punt (43.4), number of 50 or more yard punts (19) and punts downed inside the 20 (27). He is an expert at flipping field position and pinning opposing teams deep in their own territory.
Brock Miller, SUU
Miller averaged 43.4 yards per punt in 2013, kicked 19 50-yard punts or more and downed 28 punts inside the 20-yard line. He’s also averaged 26 yards per carry in 2013, so maybe punters are football players after all. And he’s not BYU’s Scott Arellano.
Matt Wells, Utah State
So much could be said about the first-year coach Wells, but the results of 2013 say it all. Wells guided the Aggies through several key injuries this season on the offensive side, and Utah State still rolled up nine wins, including an impressive bowl win against Northern Illinois, and a spot in the MWC title game. The Aggies' defense played a big part in the team's success. Sorry, Bronco Mendenhall and Kyle Whittingham, but you're being outdone right now by the MWC Coach of the Year.
Team Deseret is built on a foundation of solid offensive linemen and a deep linebacking corps, with several playmakers thrown into the mix. With Wells at the helm and a variety of players who've shown their versatility, this team is primed for success. That's what makes it the winning team in our fictional scenario.
Cougars were bowl eligible for the ninth consecutive season under Mendenhall, who has been above .500 the last eight years. Mendenhall is 6-3 lifetime in bowl games, so he knows how to get it done in one-time games. He likes to run the ball, and that's a plus in winning any game … even if it's this imaginary one.
This team is full of underdogs and hidden gems across the state — not to mention size and speed. We have a tough running game with receivers with a knack for making plays and scoring touchdowns. Never count out the underdog.