Utah football: Utes plan to battle USC on, off field
Even before he set foot in a recruit's home in California, Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake knew he had to win more than one argument. The first was explaining why Utah would be a good place for the recruit. The second would be explaining why not being a member of a BCS league didn't matter to the Utes.
The hitch, of course, is that it did matter.
"It was always the No. 1 issue," said Sitake, one of seven coaches who recruit California. "It was the hardest thing for me because everyone else was Pac-12 so we could rarely beat Pac-12 teams for recruits. Now we've got a chance."
The Utes have a better shot at big-time recruits not only because they are a member of the Pac-12, but because they are in the same division as UCLA and USC. Being able to play in those coveted areas was deemed so important by schools that it was a sticking point when deciding the divisions, with the North teams arguing they needed annual trips to Los Angeles for recruiting purposes.
In the end, the league decided USC and UCLA will play four crossover games with Northern teams.
The Utes were diplomatic during the process of settling the divisions, saying they would be content wherever they landed, but now Sitake acknowledges getting into the same division as the Los Angeles schools was huge.
"You have kids who want to stay and those who want to leave, but would love to play at home every year," he said. "In our position, we're guaranteed to play USC and UCLA, and that is a huge benefit. Before it was San Diego State and not a lot of other California schools. Now we can recruit up a lot more. It is a huge benefit for us and we have to take advantage of it."
Of course, playing USC and UCLA annually is good, as long as the Utes are winning their share of the games. But if Utah can't compete with the Los Angeles schools on the field, the Utes will have a hard time competing on the recruiting path.
"You have to beat them,"Sitake said. "You can have the field and the facilities and those things are nice, but it's what you do on the field. If you want to win, though, you need to improve and have to recruit well."
To that end the Utes believe they have a good foothold in California, even if Sitake ultimately lost more battles than he won. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham made California a priority for recruiting so at least the Utes aren't strangers in the area.
The hiring of offensive coordinator Norm Chow also gives the Utes a huge advantage, Whittingham said.
The Utes already have commitments from California quarterback Travis Wilson and receiver Delshawn McClellon, who said they picked the Utes in part because of Chow.
"We saw a difference last year with a few recruits and hopefully we'll see more in the future," he said. "It's a big plus for us."
Both are highly rated recruits, with Wilson's decision coming down to Utah and Washington. Going after high-caliber players is a must now for the Utes, but it's a battle Chow believes the Utes can survive.
"Being in the Pac-12, it ups the ante," he said. "You have to go after higher-profile guys and keep trying to get them, even if you don't get them.
"Being able to play there helps," Chow said of the California games. "It's a highly populated area and you want to be seen. You can't always win, but you have to at least compete."
As much as the Utes want to go after the blue chippers, Sitake said Utah will continue to look for the diamonds in the rough, the kind of players who don't get a lot of high-profile visits but have enough raw talent to be molded into all-conference caliber players.
"It will be good because hopefully we can get guys who are game ready, but at the same time you want to remember what got you here," Sitake said.
P Utah (1-0) at USC (1-0), 5:30 p.m. MDT
TV • Versus
Most of Utah's coaches have recruiting responsibilities in California. Here is a rundown of their areas:
Norm Chow, offensive coordinator • Southern California, Hawaii
Kalani Sitake, defensive coordinator • L.A., Utah, Florida
Tim Davis, offensive line • Northern California
Brian Johnson, quarterbacks • Los Angeles, New Orleans
Chad Kauha'aha'a, defensive line • Los Angeles, Hawaii, American Samoa
Aaron Roderick, receivers • Orange County, San Bernardino
Dave Schramm, running backs • San Diego, Riverside, Calif.