Utah Utes mailbag: Hoops, football, matzah ball soup and preconceived notions about Salt Lake City

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes guard Both Gach (11) skies to the rim for the Utes to take the lead in the 2nd half. The University of Utah basketball team was defeated by Oregon, 64-69, Jan. 4, 2020, at the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

Happy 2020, everyone.

As a new year begins, and I fully take over the Utah beat from Kurt Kragthrope, I’ve been looking forward to trying out a weekly-ish mailbag. This is just another way to engage with Utes fans, while hopefully shedding some light on various topics.

As you’ll see below with this first effort, I’m not limiting this to the Utes. Let’s have some fun. Food, beverages, pop culture, anything on your mind (within reason).

Questions? Comments? Ideas? @Joshua_Newman and @sltributes are both at your disposal. Let’s get to it.

Q: Gut feeling on guy to beat at QB this spring based on practices I’ve seen? — @SmithSarvis

A: Based on practices I’ve seen? Oh, sir, this is Power Five football. The media does not get to watch practice, but I digress. I covered this topic in the lead-up to the Alamo Bowl, but we’ll be covering it plenty more this spring, and probably beyond.

The starting quarterback competition is all but boiled down to Jake Bentley vs. Cam Rising. Bentley is a South Carolina graduate transfer with 34 games of SEC experience under his belt. Rising is a Texas transfer who has not taken a meaningful snap since high school, but he does have a year under Andy Ludwig’s system to his advantage.

Here is what I know. Check that, here is what I am sure of. With one season to play, Bentley is not coming to Salt Lake City unless he is quite certain the job is his, or he is at least quite certain he can emerge from a quarterback competition as the starter.

Having seen exactly zero practice reps, really zero reps of any kind from Rising, I think Bentley is going to win this thing, but let’s at least get through a few spring practices before we start really guessing.

Q: Do you ever yearn for a bowl of Matzah Ball soup in Salt Lake City? — @UtahRabbi

A: As a nice Jewish boy from the New York metropolitan area, I didn’t realize how much I missed a good deli in the five weeks I’ve been here. That is, until last week when I went to Feldman’s Deli, which lots of locals told me was a must-try. They were absolutely right.

I had The Rachel, which is basically a pastrami reuben with coleslaw instead of sauerkraut. A-plus stuff. The owner is a North Jersey transplant, so no shocker the food was good.

To answer your question, I’ll be having the matzah ball soup the next time I go to Feldman’s, and there will definitely be a next time I go to Feldman’s.

Q: What is your best guess as to whether the Utes will make the tourney and where you think they need to be in NET ranking to get there? — @UteManG

A: I know I reference the NET almost daily, but that’s merely because it is the metrics tool being used by the NCAA. The truth is, it is still too early to get up in arms about the NET. Case in point, San Diego State is currently No. 1. For the purposes of this exercise, Utah’s NET of 48 through Monday’s games is solid, certainly better than anyone may have projected at this point in the season.

I think it’s going to be hard for Utah to make the NCAA Tournament. I say that because the Utes are an exceptionally young group, and who knows how all that youth will fare going through an 18-game league schedule for the first time. The Quadrant 3 losses to Coastal Carolina and Tulane in November are resume anchors right now.

Now, I will hedge slightly and say that after Utah gets through this next road swing of Colorado-Arizona-Arizona State, the schedule will smooth out some. I think 9-9 or 10-8 against the Pac-12 puts the Utes in the bubble mix, but it has to be the right 9-9 or 10-8.

If I told Utah fans in October that this team, with the second-youngest roster in the country, winds up in the NIT, would they have signed?

Q: What preconceived notions of yours were correct/incorrect when you moved to Utah? -- @tayqr50

A: I had a lot of time between getting hired and actually starting, so I did a lot of research on Salt Lake City and the surrounding areas. My wife and I also spent a couple of days out here between the hiring and starting, so I felt like I was fairly prepared for this.

The two preconceived notions I probably still had coming out here are both dumb. One, being we’re in the mountains, I just thought it was going to be bitterly cold every day. With the exception of a couple of days, December was actually rather pleasant, but I’m told the real chill doesn’t show up here until later this month and into February?

Two, I didn’t think I would find good coffee here, but that was shot down within the first three days. Shoutout to Sugar House Coffee.

Q: I am headed to the Senior Bowl with my son. Which Ute stands to benefit the most from having a good week in Mobile? — @KCElliott67

A: Everyone participating at the Senior Bowl stands to benefit from a good week in front of personnel from all 32 NFL teams.

Seriously, though, it may seem cliche to say Jaylon Johnson, but I’m going to say Jaylon Johnson, Utah’s All-American junior cornerback, who declared for the NFL Draft after the Pac-12 championship game, then skipped the Alamo Bowl.

Before the 2019 season started, Johnson was already projected as an early-round pick. Depending which mock draft you trust, Johnson was thought to be a mid or early-second round selection. He had a big junior season, so his standing has not been hurt, but it can still improve.

Johnson is part of a loaded draft class at cornerback, He is currently projected around the seventh or eighth-best cornerback in the draft, so a good showing in Mobile can move that number, not to mention strengthen his case for an NFL Combine invite.

Q: How many games do you think we will win this year with a whole new squad of starters? — @dropbear99

A: It is so absurdly early to even try and project a two-deep at the majority of positions, but you want me to try and project how many wins the 2020 Utes will have? OK, I’ll bite.

We’ll look at this way. At a minimum, Utah should beat Montana State and Wyoming before Pac-12 play starts. Again, at a minimum, because it will be the betting favorite when the season opens Sept. 5 against BYU at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The Utes get Arizona, Oregon State, USC and Washington at home. The Trojans are a mess, the Huskies have a first-year head coach, even if it is in-house promotion Jimmy Lake. None of the road games feel too daunting, even with all the question marks the Utes have right now, but I’m saying this in January, months before spring ball even begins.

With way too many things up in the air to give a proper guesstimate, I don’t think 8-4 is asking too much.

Q: What’s been your biggest surprise about Salt Lake? Midwest minds would love to know. — @tkbrackets

A: Two things come to mind. One, everyone has been super nice. Very polite, very courteous, very engaging. I appreciate that. Two, you wouldn’t think that, with the alcohol laws in this state, that the craft beer scene would be booming here, but it is.

Hopkins Brewing Co. in Sugar House is some of the best craft stuff I’ve had in awhile. Wasatch Brewing, which is 20 steps from Hopkins, is also solid. My introduction to the beer scene here was Red Rock. I tried Reve, which, if memory serves, was a triple IPA. No complaints, will go back.

I’ve tried various Uintas, but have not been to the brewery yet. Epic Brewing is also on my short list.