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Utah-BYU: Recruiting paths for Utes, Cougars are diverging
College football » Utah casts wider net for recruits while BYU sticks with tradition.
First Published Sep 16 2013 05:45 pm • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:34 pm

Standing on the sidelines watching the Utes warm up for their game against Oregon State, Utah offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson is asked by a TV crew to show off the 1991 national championship ring he won while coaching Miami.

Erickson begrudgingly agrees, giving the camera a quick flash of the ring that signifies the pinnacle of college football he reached many years ago.

At a glance

Utah, BYU recruiting rankings

National college football recruiting rankings for Utah and BYU, from Rivals.com and Scout.com:

2014

Rivals.com Scout.com

Utah 68 71

BYU 57 60

2013

Rivals.com Scout.com

Utah 44 54    

BYU 70 63

2012

Rivals.com Scout.com

Utah     28 33

BYU     61 60

2011

Rivals.com Scout.com

Utah     37 39

BYU     62 66

2010

Rivals.com Scout.com

Utah     32 50

BYU     40 22

Note: 2014 classes are incomplete; rankings reflect commitments to date.

Utah at BYU

Saturday, 8:15 p.m.

TV » ESPN2

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But for the Utah Utes, the flash is something else. It’s like a bright fishing lure tossed into a mountain stream to tantalize a potentially big catch.

The Utes hope Erickson’s reputation is bait enough to land some of the top national recruits in the country, the kind of four- to five-star, blue chip players who haven’t given the Utes much of a consideration in the past.

Utah has made headway in recent years to reach past its traditional recruiting areas, diving deeper into Texas and California, while getting fewer players from traditional hotbeds such as Hawaii.

Utah and BYU still compete for select in-state recruits and some West Coast prospects, but the Utes’ bigger recruiting rivals now are USC, UCLA and the rest of the Pac-12.

The shift has created an interesting aspect to the Utah-BYU rivalry: Utah’s quest to cast a wider net versus BYU’s tried-and-true recruitment of mostly players of the LDS faith, locally and nationally.

Which approach is better?

One could argue that Utah has the edge, given its three-game winning streak in the series. Ultimately, recruiting class success is best judged on the field, in wins and losses.

Yet it’s probably too soon to judge, given Utah’s short history in the Pac-12, with just two full recruiting seasons as a conference member.


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One thing is certain, though, the two are going for the same recruits less and less.

The Utes and Cougars have only a handful of players who were recruited seriously by the other program. Among them are linebacker Pita Taumoepenu and cornerback Davion Orphey, who originally committed to BYU then landed at Utah this year.

BYU signed four players in February who also had offers from Utah, at least early in the recruiting period. Offensive linemen Brayden Kearsley, Keegan Hicks and JonRyheem Peoples and tight end Talon Shumway all ended up wearing BYU blue.

Perhaps the last notable crossover was Star Lotulelei, who committed to BYU out of high school, went to Snow College then signed with the Utes and became one of the best defensive linemen in the program’s history.

It now appears those battles for talent will be less frequent in the future.

"It’s almost like there are two different pools of players," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "There is not a lot of common ground."

He added that the trend of committing early also has led to less competition between the schools.

For BYU, the philosophy hasn’t changed much, according to recruiting coordinator Geoff Martzen.

The Cougars, who have commitments from three in-state players, still go after every Division I caliber LDS player throughout the country, then target non-LDS players who are "socially conservative," and comfortable adhering to the school’s honor code.

Scout.com recruiting expert Brandon Huffman described BYU’s efforts as "solid."

"The 2010 class was as good a class on paper as BYU has ever had, but attrition has hurt that class," he said. "It seems like BYU has taken a different approach and really is finding better fits for the overall program and the school just as much with how they fit in the schemes. In the years past, it might have been more scheme and ignoring whether they fit that well with the school."

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