Gordon Monson: Utah is ‘absolutely’ ready to play some football when the green light comes

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) University of Utah coach Kyle Whittingham at the first day of spring football practice in Salt Lake City on Monday March 4, 2019.

A wise old sage says the Utes are getting ready to play some football.

“Absolutely,” he says.

All they need now is the formal green light.

As much as Pac-12 school presidents might want to distance themselves from the appearance of merely following Big Ten school presidents as it pertains to playing football this fall … well, there’s no getting around it.

They are following them.

And Utah football’s been caught in the hang time.

When the Big Ten chose to play only conference games, the Pac-12 chose to play only conference games.

When the Big Ten chose not to play at all, the Pac-12 chose not to play.

When the Big Ten chose to play, the Pac-12 will choose to play.

Maybe that was the delay when those Pac-12 presidents met on Friday to discuss such matters, and they came to no immediate conclusion. They wanted to avoid the appearance of quickly falling straight in line, again, with their esteemed colleagues farther to the east.

The statement issued by the Pac-12 read like this:

“The Pac-12 CEO Group had an informative and productive meeting earlier [Friday]. We plan to reconvene this coming Thursday, Sept. 24, to make a decision regarding possible return to play prior to January 1. The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports will continue to be our number one priority in all of our decision making.”

It’s only a matter of wasted time before that group comes to the same conclusion the Big Ten came to. In fact, they likely already, at least informally, have. Now that every other P5 league is playing again, does anyone figure the Pac-12 will be the lone holdout? Especially now that government officials have looked right back at those school presidents, saying … Wait, what? You’re not playing football because of us? Please, go right ahead.

Why at this point the Pac-12 is dawdling further leads only to face. The saving of it. As though that delay will accomplish any of that. Now that the league has access to daily testing and to rapid results, there is no reason not to play. And that will be the Pac-12 presidents' formal decision on Thursday.

Just like … well, You-Know-Who.

The only heavy question that remains is the same one that caromed around the Big Ten for awhile and now bounces from Washington to Oregon to California to Arizona to Colorado to Utah: How long does it take a football team to get ready to play?

Utah athletic director Mark Harlan guessed at that answer a couple of months ago: “Four to six weeks,” he said.

That means if the Pac-12 wants to play games by the first weekend in November, and it gives the green light on Thursday, and players and teams need six weeks to get ready, they can do it.

And they can do it.

Many doctors and trainers say that’s more than enough time — even at Pac-12 schools where some athletes have left campuses and gone their own ways, finding their own means to stay in shape. Some athletes may be more disadvantaged there than others.

At Utah, where players have been allowed to train and practice in one form or another, that time frame is more than manageable.

Former Ute head coach Ron McBride, who coached an assortment of teams at many levels over a span of decades, says it should be no problem for modern players to get ready for games within that window.

“Utah players have been back for the past two months,” he says. “And Doug Elisaia works them out every day.”

Elisaia is Utah football’s director of strength and conditioning.

“All those guys have been back working out,” McBride says. “They’re all in shape. Utah has a structured program for those guys every day for what they’re doing to get ready to play and that was before they knew they were going to be able to play. I would say most of the teams will be in good shape and ready to play. You’re not going to see a lot of out-of-shape guys.”

Dr. Dave Petron, a respected physician who works with the Utah Jazz and Utah athletics, defers to coaches on how long it takes teams to get firmly organized, and he says that’s important because athletes are more vulnerable to injury when they’re unsure about their on-field assignments and positioning. But he adds that four to six weeks preparation time sounds “reasonable.”

“If you ramp up too quickly, you worry about overuse problems,” he says. “You worry about tendons and twisted knees and ankles.”

But the Utes, even while replacing many of last season’s departures, are in a more favorable position than some Pac-12 teams, whether the coming schedule includes six or eight games or more. Whenever the season starts — if it starts — lack of conditioning won’t be a reason to blame for any Utah struggles. Lack of talent and coordination will.

“They’ve been training up there,” McBride says. “Absolutely. They’ve been getting ready to play some football.”

GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 2-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.