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Tucson, Ariz. • I have been looking forward to Utah’s trip to the University of Arizona on Thursday night, mostly because my wife was right.
A proud 2005 graduate of the University of Arizona, we met in 2015, and she has been telling me about her positive college experience ever since. The campus is like a resort, she would say. The weather, the culture, the food, the whole vibe. She loved college, and she loves Tucson unconditionally.
She hadn’t been back there in many years, so in 2018, while living in New Jersey, our work schedules both allowed us to disappear for a few days, so we went to Tucson for four, including Homecoming against Oregon.
Like I said, she was right. Again, this is late October, so while it was raining and 39 degrees in New Jersey, it was 83 degrees and cloudless in the desert. Yes, that campus is incredibly nice. The architecture around the city was beautiful, the food was outstanding, and there was generally an easy-going, laid-back vibe everywhere we went.
So yeah, I’m excited to be back, even if it is for less than 30 hours. It doesn’t matter how long I’m here, I’m going to do it well.
Thursday doesn’t offer much time in terms of non-work stuff. Friday morning, I will be up early, probably pre-dawn. I will do whatever work needs doing, followed by a three-mile hike on Tumamoc Hill.
Breakfast is happening at Anita Street Market, perhaps a late lunch at Mi Nidito. Time permitting, I’m definitely grabbing something to go from Iron John’s Brewing Company for the hotel in Tempe. She will absolutely divorce me if I don’t bring something home from Barrio Bread.
Bottom line: Tucson is not a place I’d choose to live, mostly because it’s 147 degrees in the summer, but it’s absolutely a place I want to visit when possible.
Just like she always told me it would be.
Kyle Whittingham in favor of expanded College Football Playoff
Speaking at the annual AFCA convention earlier this week, the Utah coach indicated he would be in favor of an expanded College Football Playoff, which is currently at four teams.
Conventional thinking agrees with Whittingham. Why not go from four to eight? Increased revenue, increased visibility for schools and conferences that may not be there with only four teams, etc.
But, it’s not that simple. The current four-team format is locked in through 2026, and it’s not changing until at least then, so settle in. It’s going to be a while.
For what it’s worth, I would be in favor of an eight-team format. Every Power Five conference winner gets an automatic berth, plus two-at large selections and the Group of Five is guaranteed a spot, just as it is now with the New Year’s Six.
How exactly would I go about that without getting rid of bowl games entirely? That’s above my pay grade.
Big weekend coming for the Runnin’ Utes
I stand behind my writing that the win over then-No. 6 Kentucky on Dec. 18 completely changed the complexion of what this season could be. That game showed Utah is capable of beating almost anyone when it brings its best game.
I also stand behind my belief that this three-game road stretch of Colorado (91-52 loss on Sunday), Arizona and Arizona State is critical in terms of how seriously we take the Utes in terms of postseason prospects.
Lose both games in the desert, you’re 1-4 in the Pac-12. Yes, the schedule will smooth out some after Saturday night, but that’s a deep hole to climb out of with such a young team.
Get a split, no matter how you get it, you’re 2-3 going home to face Washington and Washington State. Sitting at 2-3 with those two home games is going to look and feel a lot more doable than 1-4.
Of course, these are both Quadrant 1 opportunities, so the Utes would gladly take one if not both. Utah has five wins combined between Quadrant 1s and 2s, which is what is keeping them even faintly involved in the at-large conversation right now.
Other hoops thoughts right now
• Keep starting Lahat Thioune in place of Branden Carlson. Larry Krystkowiak cited Thioune as being more of a physical presence as the reason behind that move against Colorado. Utah needs all the physicality it can get down low, so start Thioune again.
• On this topic, senior walk-on Marc Reininger gave the Utes a little something in terms of rebounding and a willingness to bang down low against the Buffs. Giving him another look Thursday isn’t a bad idea.
• Arizona needs a win almost as badly as Utah does. Losers of four of five and five of seven, the Wildcats have zero Quadrant 1 wins. Utah would not be a Quad 1 win, but a loss would surely have the locals getting (more) restless.
• Saturday night at Arizona State is a homecoming for Timmy Allen, who grew up 20 minutes away in Mesa. The sophomore didn’t have a number for me on Wednesday when I asked how many friends and family he expected at Desert Financial Arena, but he knows there will be a lot. Keeping the emotions in check early will be paramount.
• When fully engaged, Allen is an excellent perimeter defender. You can make a fine living in this sport as an excellent perimeter defender.
• Rylan Jones vs. Nico Mannion at the point Thursday night has been on my radar since I accepted this position at the Salt Lake Tribune. Mannion has blossomed into a projected top-15 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, so Jones is going to have be up for this one.
Other things on my mind, Utah sports or otherwise
• I think the Pac-12 South can go Utah’s way in 2020. Yes, a lot of holes to fill, questions at key positions, but who scares you in the South? I’ll buy Arizona State as the preseason favorite, but why not Utah again?
• The best view of the mountains, at least that I’ve seen in my six weeks here, is to your left as you leave Salt Lake City Airport.
• Speaking of the airport, that place is a gem. Little fuss, less muss, in and out. This is coming from someone whose primary airport options for the majority of 37 years have been Newark, LaGuardia, and JFK.
• I need to get to a gymnastics meet at the Huntsman Center. The Red Rocks are generally the biggest draw in that building, which, as we all know, houses the basketball teams. I am fascinated by that, and the overall hype surrounding women’s gymnastics in the Pac-12.
• I don’t like stouts. Stop trying to force stouts on me every winter
• My wife and I choosing to live in Sugar House is proving to be an elite, pro-level move.