It’s almost hard for me to believe that it’s only been just over a year since the realignment dominoes began to fall in college football. Among those changes during the last offseason was the move by the Utah Utes from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12.
Now, one year later, the Utes have opened camp and are preparing for their first season in that new league. I’m not going to sit here and argue that the Mountain West is, or was, the caliber conference as the Pac-12, but the Utes have shown over the past near-decade or so that the can compete with anyone, going to two BCS bowls and winning both times they went, so I have no trouble believing they’ll compete in their new conference.
Kyle Whittingham joined The Jim Rome Show to discuss the Utes’ move to the Pac-12, the excitement it’s generating, how it changes recruiting, how the competition will change after moving from the Mountain West, how the season played out a year ago and how adding Norm Chow as offensive coordinator affects things.
You’re making the move to the Pac-12. How long has that move been in the making?:
“It’s probably been talked about here at the university for maybe 25 years as far as aspirations to join the Pac-10 conference. A lot of great coaches have come through here, a lot of great players, to lay the foundation, the groundwork, for something like this to happen.”
How fired up is the community and fanbase about the move?:
“They’re extremely excited. The retention rate, or the renewal rate I should say, for our season tickets, was 98 percent, which is almost unheard of throughout the country. … That’s a big positive. The community itself is ecstatic. The university, not only athletically, but academically it’s had a big impact. It’s been a big deal for the entire community.”
How does it change the type of player you can recruit?:
“Well we’ve already seen a spike in recruiting. I guess it’s been about 13 or 14 months now since the announcement. We’re able to virtually get into any door in the country of a player that we want to try to recruit and talk to. That hasn’t always been the case. We’ve come a long way in the last 10 years. It started with the Fiesta Bowl exposure in 2004 and then the Sugar Bowl in 2009. Joining the Pac-12 Conference, that just took it a notch higher.”
In terms of competition, how big of a step is it moving from the Mountain West to the Pac-12?:
“The Pac-12 had two of the top five teams in the country last year at year’s end. That tells you right there the level of play that’s in that conference. We’ve come from a conference that plays pretty darn good football. The Mountain West Conference, especially TCU last year, there’s good football teams there as well. But we fully understand and realize the bar’s been raised.”
Are we talking about the conference just being deeper or are the athletes truly bigger, faster and stronger?:
“I think everybody’s a little bit bigger, little faster, little stronger and more depth. That’s probably the biggest difference. The 85-scholarship rosters of the Pac-12 teams, you’re going to see a lot more athleticism from 1-85 than what we’re used to.”
TCU thumped you pretty good last year after you were rolling along, then you finished 10-3. Did that game have a hangover effect?:
“Well, certainly the next week. We got thumped pretty good by a very good TCU team. In fact, I think they’re as good a team as there was in the country last year. But the next week we go to Notre Dame, and take nothing away from Notre Dame — they played a very good ballgame, they were coming off a bye week, they had a great plan in place and they beat us — but our mindset and the way we approached that game was not good. And that’s on me as the head coach. … I think we were still feeling a little bit sorry for ourselves and hanging our head a little bit.”
With Norm Chow as your offensive coordinator, are we looking at a brand new offense?:
“A few tweaks, but to the general fan, we’re going to be under center a lot more. That’s going to be the biggest difference. We’ve been in shotgun almost exclusively for the past several years. … But as far as the route structures in the thrown game, the general principles in the run game, it’s not a wholesale complete overhaul of the offense, just some tweaks here and there.”