Utes focus on Texas, amid the what-if of their missed Playoff opportunity

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes linebacker Francis Bernard (13) runs after making an interception as the Utah Utes host the Washington State Cougars, NCAA football at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday Sept. 28, 2019.

San Antonio • The College Football Playoff semifinals were staged Saturday without Utah. If the Utes needed any reminder about the opportunity they missed, the Oklahoma-LSU game was being shown on a television screen in the back of the room while five senior defensive stars appeared during a media session at the Alamodome.

“Just seeing it on TV, it’s like, man, it would have been cool,” linebacker Francis Bernard said.

“That just ran through my mind earlier,” said defensive end Bradlee Anae, who’s convinced the Utes will have more chances to reach the Playoff in the coming years. “Every time I think about it, I’m like, man, we have a bright future."

The Utes, who will meet Texas in Tuesday’s Alamo Bowl, were ranked No. 5 in the CFP standings before losing 37-15 to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game. That outcome, coupled with then-No. 4 Georgia’s being routed by LSU in the Southeastern Conference title game, opened the way for No. 6 Oklahoma to move into the top four.

New look

Former quarterback Jason Shelley's new job description comes with a number change. The sophomore will wear No. 18 as a backup safety, because his No. 15 already was shared by defensive back Malone Mataele in the duplicate-numbers era of college football.

Shelley may be needed Tuesday, with Nephi Sewell being promoted to starting free safety after injuries to Julian Blackmon and R.J. Hubert. Terrell Burgess is the starting strong safety, with Vonte Davis also available.

Asked about Shelley's ability to perform, defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley said, “With each passing day, I get more confident. … He's acclimating very well.”

Tareke Lewis, who got about a 40/60 share of playing time with Josh Nurse at right cornerback this season, by Scalley's account, will start in place of Jaylon Johnson on the other side. Johnson opted out of the Alamo Bowl to prepare for the NFL draft.

Scalley’s contract unsigned

Nearly three weeks after Utah announced a “contract amendment” for Scalley that is believed to formally make him the eventual successor to coach Kyle Whittingham, Scalley has yet to sign the agreement, he said Saturday.

The school had responded Friday to The Salt Lake Tribune's open records request by saying no document was available.

Asked jokingly by an Austin, Texas, columnist if that makes him a free agent, Scalley just laughed.

As to whether Texas coach Tom Herman pursued him to fill the Longhorns' defensive coordinator vacancy, Scalley said, “What I will say is nothing really ever got serious, so it's not worth talking about.”

The job went to former Rutgers coach Chris Ash, who will take over after secondary coach Craig Naivar serves as the interim coordinator Tuesday.

Scalley and Herman became acquainted as recruiters in Texas, while Herman was on the Iowa State staff earlier in this decade.

Late arrival

Utah’s players converged on San Antonio on Christmas Day from various points around the country, after visiting their families. Bernard didn’t arrive until Thursday night, after his 14-month-old son, Lennox, became ill and was taken to a hospital in northern California on Christmas Eve.

The toddler, who was born prematurely and spent his first 103 days at University Hospital, is doing better now, Bernard said.

Whittingham ranks No. 15 among bowl coaches

Whittingham's 11-2 record in bowl games distinguishes his career, although the reduced magnitude of his victories ranks him behind coaches with worse winning percentages, according to the Football Bowl Association.

The FBA's 150th Anniversary Committee lists Whittingham No. 15 among the top 25 coaches in bowl history. Only two of Whittingham's wins have come in New Year's Six games, including a 2005 Fiesta Bowl victory over Pittsburgh as co-head coach with Urban Meyer. He also beat Alabama's Nick Saban in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.

Bobby Bowden, who went 22-10-1 with West Virginia and Florida State, is ranked No. 1. Saban, who’s 14-10 with Toledo, Michigan State, LSU and Alabama, is No. 2 — thanks mostly to his six national championships. Meyer, who went 12-3 with Utah, Florida and Ohio State, is No. 4.

Active coaches on the list include Saban, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney (No. 3), North Carolina’s Mack Brown (No. 9), TCU’s Gary Patterson (No. 16), Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher (No. 18), Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy (No. 20). The late LaVell Edwards of BYU is tied for 25th, with 7-14-1 record.