Red All Over: Getting that first Utes game under my belt

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah Utes host the USC Trojans, NCAA football at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020.

I covered a University of Utah football game last weekend, so does that mean I have to come up with a new schtick?

For months on Twitter, on radio spots and even in this newsletter, the running joke has been that, yeah, I cover Utah athletics, but I haven’t covered a football game yet, so am I really The Salt Lake Tribune’s beat writer?

On Saturday afternoon, I ironed my shirt, ironed a new pair of pants, picked out a tie, broke out the good leather messenger bag for my laptop, and made my way to Rice-Eccles Stadium for the first time since arriving here a little less than a year ago.

It felt normal to be doing it, but it somehow felt awkward at the same time. I haven’t been shy in voicing my feelings that, in the middle of a global health crisis, we shouldn’t be attempting to play sports, especially at the, uh, ‘amateur’ level, but for the sake of my career, I’ve played along.

The emptiness of the stadium, the lack of people milling about the sixth floor of Rice-Eccles, the ambient noise pumped in throughout the game were all weird, but the job was the job. Charting plays, taking notes, firing off an occasional tweet, cobbling together a coherent story for my editor once the final horn sounded are all things that happened.

I slid into bed just shy of 3 a.m., which used to be no big deal, but I’m approaching 40 years old, and boy, hopping out of bed later that morning when the dog decided it was time to go outside was really not ideal, but I’ll do it again.

Football season is finally happening for the University of Utah, I’m the beat guy, and short of this pandemic absolutely obliterating every sporting norm we’ve become used to over time, this is what I signed up for.

I’ll do my best to come up with some new material, though. My old standby is now, thankfully, officially outdated.

What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise

• There was enough noise being made behind the scenes over the weekend that Larry Krystkowiak revealing Monday evening that he had tested positive for COVID-19 didn’t come off as a huge surprise, but to hear him talk about it on his weekly ESPN700 radio show was pretty jarring. The men’s basketball program has dealt with, what I would consider, a pretty significant virus outbreak, and to be honest, the whole thing sucks. I feel bad for Krystkowiak, I feel bad for his players, and hopefully, everyone can get right and begin the season Dec. 3 vs. Washington.

I dove deeper into Utah’s nonconference schedule on Tuesday, but let me reiterate, that schedule may be Charmin-level soft, but that is not Utah’s fault. As it stands, a Dec. 12 trip to BYU is just huge for resume-building purposes. The Utes would be well-served to get that one, because in a season where we genuinely don’t know yet how the NCAA Tournament will be selected, or even how many teams will be involved, Utah needs to take advantage of every opportunity it’s presented with. BYU represents Utah’s first and only chance at anything even resembling a signature nonconference win.

• Here’s an ‘Inside Baseball’ look at what the job of a beat writer has turned into. During college football season, Fridays, at least to me, are light days. Maybe you dot the i’s and cross the t’s on a couple of things, but that’s it. Take the rest of the day for yourself, because game days are a grind. Now, with Pac-12 scheduling being a mess, Fridays have turned into working to report or confirm that your game is actually going to take place, complete with whether or not the two teams have gotten through antigen and PCR testing on Friday morning. That’s not a complaint, but merely an observation of what the last month has been. The last month, for all intents and purposes, has been lunacy.

• College basketball season begins across the country on Wednesday. It’s going to be weird, and awkward, and complicated, and aggravating, but it’s here, man. My advice is to settle in, because there have been and will continue to be postponements and cancellations. We’ll just have to deal with it, but at least there will be a season.

Your questions

Q: “This year is a lost cause for football, what does the injury to Rising do to next year’s QB situation? Bentley staying or going?” — @Unholiestjedi

A: With so much time between now and the start of next season, I’m not sure Rising’s injury does anything to the quarterback situation, at least not yet. As for Bentley, that might be a different story.

The South Carolina graduate transfer has voiced his desire to go to the NFL. Now, with the opportunity to start and put some new stuff on film, don’t rule out him leaving Utah after this season if he believes he has a legitimate shot and beginning a pro career. Also, it should be noted that Bentley turned 23-years old earlier this week. As an older guy, who knows what his appetite may be for more college football and more schoolwork when the alternative could be going to the NFL.

However this shakes out, keep in mind that the Utes quarterback situation will include four-star 2021 recruit Peter Costelli, who plans to play his senior season at Mission Viejo (Calif.) High School beginning in January.

Q: “Why, in a pandemic year where there are travel concerns would Utah sign non-conference hoops agreements with teams farther away (Idaho, Idaho St.) than many of the in-state schools (Weber, USU, SUU, Dixie)?” — @AJCrowley42

A: Have we covered this before? I think we have? Whatever, let’s do it again.

First of all, from a local perspective, Utah and Dixie State were on the doorstep of finalizing an agreement that would have seen them open against each other Nov. 25. Things stalled, and that game never materialized, but Krystkowiak tried to make that happen.

From all indications around this state’s basketball community, Utah has no intention of playing Weber State or Utah State anytime soon. Krystkowiak got run over by Damian Lillard and the Wildcats in 2011, and has not scheduled them since. The only other time Utah and Weber State have played during Krystkowiak’s tenure was last season, but that was contractually-obligated as part of the now-defunct Beehive Classic. Utah and Utah State have only played once in the last decade, in 2017, which was also part of the Beehive Classic.

Sources have told The Salt Lake Tribune that Southern Utah reached out to the Utes about playing this season, but the interest was not reciprocated. Take that however you want, but SUU won 17 games each of the last two seasons, and could be a factor in the top half of the Big Sky this season.

Idaho State, which is located in Pocatello, is 164 miles from Salt Lake City, does not require a flight, so no need to get up in arms over that. The University of Idaho, though, is located in Moscow, which is in the northern part of the state, making it roughly 11 hours to Salt Lake City via bus.

I have to assume Idaho is traveling here via plane, which, under these pandemic conditions, feels very, very needless for a nonconference game.

Q: “I get that the results count, but is the proper way to be viewing the Utes seasons in all sports as exhibition years? With the main goal that we see marginal improvement each week?” — @Eric18Utah

A: I could not possibly disagree more that these seasons, especially in football and basketball, should be treated as ‘exhibition seasons.’

Maybe these seasons don’t qualify towards how one defines legitimacy, but these seasons are being played, the players are preparing to play, the coaches are grinding all week to come up with a game plan, and the goal on Saturdays, or the occasional Friday or Sunday, is still to win.

Seeing improvement from the players each day, each week is always going to be part of the process, no matter if you’re playing four games or a normal 12-game season. That part never changes.

On this topic, I’ve had a lot of people in my mentions this week telling me that this Utah football season doesn’t count and we shouldn’t take the results too seriously. They’ve been tweeting this at me, mind you, following after a 33-17 loss in the opener.

If Utah had won its opener, I promise you those same people would have been projecting 4-0 and a trip to the Pac-12 championship game. Let’s get real, folks.

Random musings

• Tuesday was the two-year anniversary of my wife and I adopting our dog. My wife, bless her soul, bought him a Yeti water bowl (she had a coupon!) from REI. She then walked into Paw by Paw in Sugar House and walked out with a four-foot bully stick, and a ‘cookie cake.’ We recommend Paw by Paw, just saying.

• Stuffing is the best Thanksgiving side dish there is. That’s right stuffing, followed by mashed potatoes, green-bean casserole, and probably macaroni and cheese in that order. On topic, stuffing needs to be more of an all-year deal, not just three or four times a year.

• I hope none of you are going out to bars on Thanksgiving Eve, but if you are that absent-minded, just be careful, because Thanksgiving Eve is one of the worst amateur hours there is in terms of nights out. Other amateur hours include New Year’s Eve, Dec. 23, and, the very worst of all, St. Patrick’s Day.

• Did I mention college basketball starts today? That’s awesome.