Utah, the original "BCS buster," has made it to the promised land of conference affiliation, having made two undefeated runs in the last decade, but getting no looks at a national championship chance. If they can duplicate their success, that should definitely change.
NEW CONFERENCE: Pacific 12 Conference, South Division
PREVIOUS CONFERENCE: Mountain West Conference (1999-2010)
Record: 105-42 (63-27 in MWC)
Conference Championships: 4 (3 outright, 1 shared)
All-time Bowl Record: 12-4
Best All-Time Finish: 2008 -- 13-0, Sugar Bowl champions, #2 final AP ranking
OFF THE FIELD:
Utah stands to benefit in many ways from the move to the Pac-12. BCS-conference affiliation will help Utah draw longer looks from some of the West's best recruits. Just this offseason, Utah beat out USC, UCLA, and most of the Pac-12 for the highly recruited Harvey Langi. While Langi is from Utah, so was Stanley Havili, another recruit in recent history who chose USC over staying at home. Utah should now be able to keep more of the state's best talent at home. The Utes also won a recruiting battle with BYU for QB Chase Hansen, who explicitly stated that Utah's place in the Pac-12 was part of his decision.
The mountains of money that will soon overflow out of Utah's coffers with a new TV deal that starts in 2012 will also help the program tremendously. While a full share of the money doesn't start right away for the Utes, the partial share they will take in the first couple years is far greater than the TV deal they had previously in the MWC. This should allow them to update workout and practice facilities, and eventually undertake stadium expansion at Rice-Eccles Stadium when the time is right.
Not only will the new TV deal increase revenue (<-understatement), it will ultimately increase exposure for Utah as well. After next season, the conference begins a TV package with Fox and ESPN that will also include games on the FX cable channel that will be greater exposure than the previous TheMtn/Versus/CBS-College arrangement in the MWC. Utah will also have the rights to broadcast and distribute any games not shown on ESPN/Fox.
|The progress of Wynn under Chow|
may determine Utah's success.
Utah welcomes a new offensive coordinator in Norm Chow. A Utah alumnus, Chow first became known as an offensive mind at BYU, and later at NC State and USC, where he tutored three Heisman Trophy winners, as well as Phillip Rivers. After a forgetful run at UCLA, Chow returns to his alma mater with his pro-style offense in tow, dispatching the spread offense first introduced in 2003 by Urban Meyer.
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: 10-2
Jordan Wynn takes a firm hold on Chow's new offense, and the new talent in the backfield of Harvey Langi and Thretton Palamo run roughshod on opponents. After a rough introduction to the Pac-12, where the Utes fall on the road to USC, Utah plays strongly and slips up only again at Arizona. Blessed with the favorable circumstances of avoiding both Oregon and Stanford in their first Pac-12 season, and with USC on probation, the Utes play Oregon in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game.
LIKELY SCENARIO: 8-4
After falling in a rough outing against USC, Utah returns to its home state and falls again to BYU in another close rivalry thriller for which the matchup has become known. The offense struggles early to find a rhythm under the new system. Utah falls again at an awkward mid-season trip to Pitt, and loses either a close game at home against Oregon State, or on the road at Arizona. If Utah can beats Arizona and Arizona State in this scenario, its 7-2 conference record is still enough to get them to the Pac 12 title game. Otherwise, losses to the wrong teams sends someone else to play in Eugene for the title.
WORST-CASE SCENARIO: 5-7
With the defense trying to hold the fort, the offense sputters for most of the season and questions about Norm Chow's ability to be a good offensive coordinator follow him from UCLA. With Jordan Wynn getting his first snaps after his shoulder surgery on his throwing shoulder, the Utes struggle with, but eventually beat Montana State (Big Sky regular season champion from last year, lost at Washington State by 1 last year), then fall to USC and BYU in large fashion. The growing pains of a first year in a BCS conference, along with extreme unfamiliarity with opponents, is too much for Utah to handle, as they lose to Pitt, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon State, and Cal. A 4-5 conference record, respectable in the first year in the conference, still places them below middle of the road.
Even if the worst-case scenario were to play out, I don't think Utah would be down for long. Utah is likely to hover around 8-4 or 9-3 and shake up the conference by taking down a USC or Oregon on occasion and claim a 10-win season. I think that Utah will compete for the South division title with regularity--if not immediately, soon enough. Nobody else in the division has any consistency or regular success, so that leaves Utah and USC. Unless Arizona State stops under-performing and under-recruiting (read: fires Dennis Erickson), Utah should sit right along the line that divides the upper-third and middle-third in the conference, and win its share of division titles--and even a few Rose Bowl berths along the way.
Leave us a comment and let us know how you think Utah will do in its first year in the Pac-12.
(See the other pieces in the series here: Transition Outlook)