Los Angeles • Utah’s football staff will spend this week finalizing the Utes' 110-player camp roster, anticipating some possible additions, coach Kyle Whittingham said Wednesday.
The Utes are expecting BYU transfer Francis Bernard to join their linebacking corps and hope junior college offensive lineman Bernard Schirmer will follow through on his recent commitment and report for the Aug. 1 start of practice.
Whittingham said of Bernard, “There are certain things that have to happen before you can comment on a recruit or a potential addition to the roster. And that criteria has not been met.”
Schirmer's case is different from those of other 2018 recruits, because he did not sign during the standard letter-of-intent period. He recently signed a non-binding scholarship agreement with the Utes, but remains recruitable. Schirmer has three years of eligibility remaining.
Bryant Pirtle, a junior college linebacker who signed in February, is expected to report Aug. 6, Whittingham said.
Previewing the season during the Pac-12 Football Media Day, Whittingham said the receivers are the team’s biggest question mark, with plenty of potential. Returned missionary Britain Covey is the most proven player in the group; Whittingham mentioned Siaosi Mariner as being “ready to have a breakout year." Linebacker Chase Hansen said Demari Simpkins “is one of the more underrated guys in the conference” and has been outstanding in summer workouts.
Utes say getting close is no longer good enough in the South. To take the next step, Kyle Whittingham says his program must win the division
There is no magic recipe. Not at least according to Chase Hansen.
For Utah to make that much-desired leap to the elite, for the Utes to get to Levi’s Stadium and play for the Pac-12 championship, it’s pretty simple. A play here, a play there. Make them when they count most.
“I think we just need to win the close ones, the ones that we haven’t won in the past,” said Utah’s senior safety-turned-linebacker. “As far as how? Just need to make some plays.”
So there it is.
Getting so painfully close in to getting to Santa Clara, Calif., last December as Pac-12 South champs could help this year’s Utes, Hansen said. That and a returning plethora of starters on both sides of the ball.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham agrees.
“We’ve been competitive,” he said. “We’ve had the opportunity to get to the championship game a couple times since we joined the league, have not capitalized on that opportunity and that’s the next step in our evolution as a program in our estimation is getting to that championship game. Every team in the conference wants to.”
The Utes, Whittingham said, have heard the close-but-not-close-enough bit for too many years now.
“We own up to that,” he said. “We’re not trying to hide from that; it’s just something that needs to happen.”
Whittingham spoke glowingly of junior quarterback Tyler Huntley, junior running back Zack Moss and his typically vaunted Ute defense. The Utah coach pointed out the position that needs the most work in fall camp is the receiving corps, which has talent returning, but no standouts. The Utes lost Darren Carrington II and Raelon Singleton from a year ago.
Asked if he sees an alpha dog in the 2018 group, Whittingham went to a familiar name, one beloved by Utah fans.
“Well,” he said, “Britain Covey is a tremendous player. He’s back. Siaosi Mariner is a guy I think is ready to have a breakout year.”
— Christopher Kamrani
Herm Edwards is gaining converts — in the locker room at least — as he gets ready for his first season as Arizona State’s coach
There isn’t a coaching personality in the Pac-12 Conference like Herm Edwards.
That much was evident just a few minutes into his press conference at the Pac-12 Media Day in Hollywood. No coach demanded nearly every reporter to whip out their phones and start recording video. Because Edwards, the former ESPN analyst and head coach of the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs, knows how to deliver a soundbite.
When asked if his new team, the Arizona State Sun Devils being picked last in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, will serve as a bit of motivation for his group heading into fall camp, Edwards shrugged.
“I bet on me,” he said, “because that’s the only person you can bet on.”
Edwards said he hopes his players don’t view the outside noise as knocks and instead look inward on how to improve within first. Junior wide receiver N’Keal Harry never saw Edwards as Edwards the ESPN voice who in his years in the NFL went viral for a postgame press conference.
“I never really thought of Coach Herm as the broadcaster,” Harry said, “because he was my coach at the UnderArmour game, so I’ve always looked at him as a coach.”
So what was the reaction of Harry, the Sun Devils' talented 6-foot-4 wideout, when he heard ASU had fired former head coach Todd Graham and hired, of all people, Herm Edwards?
There was a sense of shock, but also now that he’s had more time with him, Harry is looking forward to the 2018 season.
“He’s a man of his word,” Harry said. “He’s a very wise man.”
— Christopher Kamrani
Stanford LB Sean Barton, a Woods Cross grad, is close to return for Cardinal following injury
The Cardinal always have a presence in the Beehive State. It will be showcased once more on the roster this season.
In 2018, the Stanford football program will have six former Utah prep athletes in Palo Alto, Calif. Back from their LDS Church missions are former Brighton wide receiver Simi Fehoko and East outside linebacker Tangaloa Kaufusi. One of the established Utahns on the roster, however, is nearly back from a season-ending injury and nearly ready to roll.
Senior inside linebacker Sean Barton, who was a standout at Woods Cross High, suffered a season-ending injury in the loss to San Diego State in 2017. But Stanford coach David Shaw said the 6-foot-3, 224-pound linebacker is close to a return.
“I don’t know if Sean’s going to start training camp … 100 percent right off the bat,” Shaw said, “but he’s really close. He’s doing all the running, he’s doing all the exercises. Maybe not with the intensity that we need for everybody to be at just yet. But he’s healthy and he’s excited and ready to go.”
Barton has 49 career tackles and two forced fumbles in 16 games played.
— Christopher Kamrani
Utah’s Matt Gay, who won the Groza Award last year as nation’s top kicker, will try to repeat the feat in 2018
You have to. You just have to include the reigning champ.
The Lou Groza Award watch list is, of course, headlined by last year’s winner, Utah kicker Matt Gay. The senior-to-be from Orem who went from walk-on to indispensable special team star headlines the 30-player list for this year’s Lou Groza Award, which honors the best collegiate place-kicker in college football.
Gay won in 2017 as he drilled 30 field goals, becoming the fourth kicker in FBS history to reach that marker. Should Gay defend his award, he’d become only the second back-to-back winner in the history of the award. Former Florida State kicker Sebastian Janikowski went back-to-back in 1998 and 1999 before going on to star at the NFL.
Utah State junior Dominik Eberle, a finalist for the award in 2017, is back on the Lou Groza watch list in 2018.
Gay joins teammates Zack Moss, Chase Hansen, Lo Falemaka, Bradlee Anae and Julian Blackmon as Utes on preseason award watch lists.
— Christopher Kamrani
Pac-12 continues quest to shorten length of conference football games
Another Pac-12 Media Day, another round of expanded conference initiatives.
On Wednesday morning, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said the Pac-12 will further expand its pilot program revealed in 2017 to shorten the length of football games. Scott said at least 30 games are expected to be included in the program, which began in 2017, to minimize the length of college football games as much as possible.
Last season, the Pac-12 started with 15 games.
Scott said after gathering feedback from the schools in the conference, fans and broadcasters, the decision was made to aim at doubling the amount of games in 2018 and pushing beyond the Pac-12 Network games. Pac-12 games on ESPN and FOX in 2018 will also participate in the endeavor designed to minimize the running times of games as much as possible.
Elements of the initiatives include shortening halftime from 20 minutes to 15 minutes, restructuring commercial formats, enhancing in-game advertising, among others. Not all elements, however, will be introduced in every game in 2018.
“Improving the fan experience is a critical priority for the Pac-12 and we believe that taking steps to shorten the length of football games is one way to meet that objective,” said Scott.
In addition, Scott announced the Pac-12 Networks will air 34 live games including 13 over the first three weeks of the season. Also beginning in 2018 is a program dubbed “The Pregame,” which will feature the network’s Saturday show on the road all season.
Each Saturday, starting the second week of the season, the hour-long program will be broadcast live from a different Pac-12 campus, stopping at every university conference throughout the year. A special premiere episode of “The Pregame” will debut in Salt Lake City for Utah’s 2018 opener against Weber State on Thursday, Aug. 30.
— Christopher Kamrani
Utes picked to finish second in Pac-12 South
Utah is picked a strong second in the Pac-12 South football race.
The Utes ranked close behind USC in the official poll, released Wednesday to launch the Pac-12 Football Media Day.
The panel of 42 media members gave the Utes 14 first-place votes to USC's 22. The Trojans totaled 225 points to Utah's 209. Arizona is picked third in the South, followed by UCLA, Colorado and Arizona State.
The Utes have been picked second in two of their previous seven seasons of Pac-12 membership. In each case, 2012 and 2017, they finished fifth in the division with a 3-6 record.
In the North, Washington received 40 first-place votes. Stanford is picked second, followed by Oregon, California, Washington State and Oregon State. The voters also made the Huskies an overwhelming choice to win the Pac-12 championship game.
— Kurt Kragthorpe
PAC-12 MEDIA POLL
1 • USC • (22) 225 points
2 • Utah (14) 209
3 • Arizona (3) 178
4 • UCLA (2) 116
5 • Colorado (1) 80
6 • Arizona State 72
1 • Washington (40) 249 points
2 • Stanford (1) 198
3 • Oregon (1) 178
4 • California 108
5 • Washington State 98
6 • Oregon State 45
First-place votes in parentheses