Kyle Whittingham hopes Utes get all their games in, but with the virus, ‘I’m not sure that’s realistic'

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kyle Whittingham, here coaching Utah as it faces Oregon in the Pac-12 football championship game last year, is hopeful the Utes and Pac-12 play a full 7-game schedule this season. But with rising virus counts across the nation, including the west, he's not sure that's realistic.

There has been college football played across the country for the last seven weekends, but, predictably in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, things have not gone on without a hitch.

When the Mountain West on Tuesday canceled Saturday’s New Mexico-Colorado State season-opener, it was the 34th FBS game to either be postponed or outright canceled since the season began. Among those 34, 11 of them involved at least one Power Five team. This all comes before the Big Ten begins its truncated nine-game season Saturday and the Pac-12 follows with a seven-game season starting two weeks later.

With a decent sample size of games played, outbreaks inside football programs reported, and games postponed or canceled, what can Utah learn as it prepares to begin its own season?

“Well, I guess we’ve learned there’s a good chance some of our games will get canceled and postponed as well,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham semi-jokingly told reporters on a Zoom call Wednesday morning. “The Pac-12 is cranking up two weeks from Saturday, it would be tremendous if we can get all the games in that are scheduled. I’m not sure that’s realistic.”

When the Pac-12 announced on Sept. 24 that it would play a seven-game schedule beginning Nov. 7, a quick look at the calendar made clear that the league was giving itself no wiggle room.

Seven games in seven weeks, including the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 18 and six more inter-divisional games the next day, means that there is no room for a postponement. If a game cannot be played because of COVID-19, or really any other reason, all indications have been it will not be made up, but rather canceled. This, in an effort to stay on schedule and allow the Pac-12 champion to be in the mix for the College Football Playoff, which will be selected and seeded on Dec. 20.

From a Utah perspective, the bad news is that cases in the state have spiked and have shown few, if any signs of slowing down. According to covidactnow.org, Utah’s positive test rate of 15.2% is the fourth-highest in the country, while the state’s Department of Health has reported over 1,000 new cases in 13 of the last 15 days.

The fact that Utah’s athletic department, along with the other 11 Pac-12 athletic departments, have the ability to test student-athletes on a daily basis is likely to make the state’s case spike moot. The ability to test daily, more than anything, is helping to guarantee a Nov. 7 start to the season.

Whether or not the Pac-12 gets all seven games in for all 12 programs, as Whittingham indicated, remains to be seen.

“You just have to do the best you can to mitigate the virus, take every precaution and we’re doing that, just hoping for the best. It’s an invisible virus and you can’t completely be 100% safe-guarded against it. I think we’re doing a lot of good things, trying to stay healthy. So far, so good, so we hope that continues.”

T.J. Green enters NCAA Transfer Portal

When Whittingham, unprompted Saturday afternoon following Utah’s first live scrimmage, offered that his running back depth would consist of Devin Brumfield, Jordan Wilmore, Micah Bernard and Ty Jordan, it meant T.J. Green was the odd-man out.

With the writing on the wall, Green, a redshirt junior, entered the NCAA Transfer Portal on Tuesday afternoon. Green will have two years left to play after he graduates from Utah in December.

“He’s looking for an opportunity to have more playing time, so you can’t really fault him,” Whittingham said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him, he’s getting his degree, wish he would’ve stayed, he’s a great kid. It is bittersweet, a guy that comes in for three-and-a-half years, does everything he’s asked to do, takes care of his academics, he did his part.”

After taking a redshirt in 2017, Green saw action in 25 games between the 2018 and 2019 seasons, rushing for 258 yards on 59 carries. The emergence of Jordan as an immediate option as a true freshman made the running backs room deeper, but also guaranteed there wouldn’t be enough reps to satisfy everyone.

“We all had our fair share of running the rock and we were all doing great, it’s just tough to see it happen like that,” said Bernard, a redshirt freshman who will make his collegiate debut this fall. “I wish him the best, I know he’s going to find somewhere else to really work and become “that guy,” so I wish him the best.”