Red All Over: Just roll with the Utah football situation, there’s no other choice

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File) | Kyle Whittingham and his Utah Utes remain on track to play UCLA Saturday night in the Rose Bowl, but we won't know fur sure the game is on until the Utes and Bruins come running out of the tunnel at the Rose Bowl.

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I am self aware enough to know that I should take my own advice when I say that everyone should just roll with what’s happening with the Utah football team right now.

Frankly, what choice do you have?

We all got to the doorstep of the season opener last week. Me, you, the players, the coaches, athletic department officials, TV guys, other beat writers, everyone. We all hung tough for eight months, through cancelations, postponements, rumor-mongering and umpteen other factors. On Friday afternoon, just over 24 hours before the 1:30 kickoff vs. Arizona, the game was called off due to a COVID outbreak among the Utes.

I was flabbergasted, but looking around the country at other schools and conferences, I shouldn’t have been. It took a day or two to really get over that shock and once again realize what we’re dealing with, but here we are. On my end, this week has been spent writing about COVID-19, combing through the Pac-12 protocols, and those of Salt Lake County and the City of Pasadena, trying to decide if the game Saturday night at UCLA would even be allowed to be played.

Either way, I’m rolling with it. I wrote the bulk of this newsletter on Wednesday. As you read this Thursday morning, I will be in the middle of Pac-12 virtual media day for men’s basketball. Beyond that, I’ll spend the rest of Thursday finishing up some football-related items and on Friday, I will board a flight from Salt Lake City, bound for Burbank in anticipation of the 8:30 p.m. FOX kickoff on Saturday night.

As I sit here Wednesday night, I am cautiously optimistic there will actually be football to write about on Saturday, but if it turns out there isn’t, I’ll absorb that punch and keep it moving towards USC’s visit to Rice-Eccles Stadium on Nov. 21.

After all, what choice do I have?

What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise

• Remember I said this as we move towards Saturday night: With Kyle Whittingham indicating multiple times this week that scout-team players and walk-ons are getting ready to play at UCLA, there is a non-zero chance that freshman quarterback Cooper Justice at least travels and dresses Saturday night. When asked during fall camp what would happen if COVID-19 hit the quarterback room, Whittingham said Justice is No. 4, while No. 5 was less clear.

• By this time of year, I’m normally running around like a toddler hopped on sugar because of my excitement for college basketball. That has been severely tempered for obvious reasons, but Utah’s Nov. 25 opener vs. Dixie State has a lot of intrigue. Coached by Salt Lake City native Jon Judkins, this will be the Trailblazers' Division I debut, and it will come with a roster containing a bunch of in-state and local recruits. Months ago, I started thinking this would be a fun early-season matchup. It may have taken a pandemic to get here, but at least we got here.

• Pac-12 basketball feels like it’s going to be deeper than it normally is. I think the league can get seven teams to the NCAA Tournament, which would tie its single-season record. To me, Utah has enough talent to be one of the seven, but it’s going to take some doing.

• The juxtaposition between Utah fans and BYU fans this fall has been interesting. Utah fans are clinging to the hope of a season, but BYU fans appear to be all-in on a season that has seen the Cougars move into the top 10, against a soft schedule, with a quarterback who could wind up as a Heisman finalist. These two teams actually playing each other on Sept. 3 would have been a lot of fun.

Your questions

Q: “When will we know for sure if we’ll play Saturday? Do we know if we’ll be getting players back out of contact tracing prior to the game? Do the cancelled games reduce revenue just for the teams affected, or does the entire pot for the Pac-12 reduce and all teams affected?” — @utes_pac12

A: My man here technically asked three questions, but they’re all connected, so I will let it slide this time.

We’ll know Utah is playing on Saturday if they get through antigen testing in California on Saturday morning, and even then, forgive me if I’m skeptical until a bunch of guys in helmets actually run out of the Rose Bowl tunnel.

The timeline on Utah players and contact tracing/quarantine is unknown, but it has been painted as a revolving door with guys going in and others coming out. Who will actually be available Saturday night is a big question mark.

What fiscal revenue in the Pac-12 winds up being has also been steeped in some mystery. What happens if, say, USC plays the full seven and Utah winds up playing four? Does the revenue even out somehow? Seems unlikely, but I don’t have a firm answer there.

Q: “I would quickly like a Josh Newman look in at the rest of the country, CBB-wise. Rank the top-7 conferences and maybe throw out your personal Final Four. Maybe one non-Utah/Pac-12 player you are excited to watch.” — @Eric18Utah

A: 1. Big Ten, 2. Big 12, 3. Big East, 4. ACC, 5. SEC, 6. Pac-12, 7. American.

Final Four matchups, assuming it gets played on time: COVID-19 vs. Pfizer vaccine, Tony Fauci vs. general American stupidity.

Q: “Out of all the restaurants you’ve tried in Utah, What’s your favorite & why?” — @UnholiestJedi

A: Two answers, because I’m wishy washy and can’t commit to anything.

I thought Takashi, on West Market St. downtown, was some of the best sushi I’ve had in a very long time, if not ever. I didn’t come to Utah thinking I’d find excellent sushi, but here we are.

Second, Valter’s Osteria was as good as everyone said it would be, and in hindsight, we waited too long to try it. The one regret there, and this is thanks to the pandemic, is we did take out instead of sitting down in the restaurant. The meal, which was very good, would certainly have been better if we hadn’t taken it home.

Q: “I would like to know why more precautions weren’t taken by coaches and players 14 days before the Arizona game to prevent the situation we are now in. I feel like the program is not taking responsibility for a failure to ensure players were ready to go. Surely they had something in place to prevent this, but why didn’t it work?” — @C_S_Man

A: I maintain my long-held stance that this athletic department, this medical team, these trainers, the adults in charge have done everything in their power to test the players and to keep everyone safe.

I would like to think the players have done their own due diligence in terms of staying safe and healthy. Even if they have, they’re in college. Many of them are living in dorms, sharing spaces, sharing bathrooms, etc. Things were bound to happen because the athletic department cannot keep tabs at all hours of the day.

The program is not taking responsibility for this failure? Too harsh, although some more transparency would be very helpful.

Surely, they had something in place to prevent this? Yes, they did, and so have dozens of other schools. The best-laid plans don’t always go smoothly.

Random musings

• My wife never knows where her debit card is. Never. In her defense, she’s never actually lost it, but still. God forbid she ever puts it back in her wallet.

• Good job by Gov. Herbert, post-election, on his way out the door, to institute a statewide mask mandate. Very heroic to get that done six months after he should have.

• I’m in the minority, but I’m not rooting against the Jets every week. I don’t want them to be terrible, I don’t hope they go winless. Yes, I think it’s a bad idea to move on from Sam Darnold. Those are my Jets takes, they’re not changing.

• As you read this, Real Housewives of Salt Lake City has already debuted on Bravo Wednesday evening. As a recent-ish devotee of Real Housewives of New Jersey, expectations are high for the Salt Lake City version. Yeah, that’s right, I do trashy reality TV sometimes. What of it?

• Let the record show, I feel safe traveling this weekend to go cover Utah-UCLA at the Rose Bowl. Mask, distancing, hand sanitizer, I don’t need the free water/pretzels on the flight, rental car, hotel, all meals are curbside pickup or delivery. I’m fine, you’re fine, everything’s fine, right?