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Red All Over: The NCAA Transfer Portal is there to be used, and Kyle Whittingham has taken advantage

Utah has quarterback and running back transfers set to participate in spring practice.

LSU running back Chris Curry (24) carries against Utah State defensive end Nick Heninger (42) in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

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The NCAA Transfer Portal was instituted in Oct. 2018 as a tool used to streamline the transfer process for student-athletes.

I won’t bore you with every last detail, but a student-athlete wishing to transfer can have his/her name and contact information added to the portal database by his/her current school’s compliance office, making it visible to all other schools wishing to make contact and recruit.

Others have said this in the past, but for football and basketball, the transfer portal has essentially created free agency thanks to hundreds of names being added on an annual basis. In any case, the portal is now a part of the recruiting process, there to be used if a coaching staff needs immediate help at a given position.

On this topic, credit to Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham and his coaching staff, who have been willing to adapt to the times and hit the transfer portal as needed. The last month has offered a handful of prime examples.

At quarterback, Cam Rising suffered a shoulder injury that will keep him shelved through the spring, and Jake Bentley appeared likely to leave after one season. So, Whittingham hit the portal and pulled out Texas freshman Ja’Quinden Jackson and Baylor graduate transfer Charlie Brewer. Both players committed within 24 hours of the season ending on Dec. 19.

At running back, Ty Jordan’s death left a significant hole, compounded by the fact TJ Green, Devin Brumfield and Jordan Wilmore previously transferred. Whittingham again went to the portal and pulled out Oklahoma’s T.J. Pledger and LSU’s Chris Curry.

That’s four transfers, two each at two clear positions of need, all thanks to the transfer portal. Furthermore, Whittingham was able to get all of this done before the second semester started, which means everyone is now on campus and will be able to participate in spring practice in less than two months.

One could argue that the transfer portal is there to help solve problems, and Utah certainly solved some big ones since the season ended.

What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise

• Breaking news Wednesday night that Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott will step down at the end of June did not come as a surprise, although it may have come earlier than many expected. His legacy will be viewed as a mixed bag. He signed a groundbreaking media rights deal in 2011, but the creation of Pac-12 Networks, which did not take on ESPN and FOX backing and instead went at it alone, has been an abject failure to this point. Scott’s successor, at a minimum, needs to have experience as a college athletics administrator, preferably with high-level relationships already in place. Whoever it is will be tasked with negotiating the conference’s next media rights deal, which Scott was never going to be allowed to do.

• On paper, the Utah men’s basketball team is better than Washington State, and it has already beaten Washington. These are just facts, but those don’t matter if the Utes can’t get it together on the road finally. Expect Utah-Washington State to be played in the 60′s. It’s two top-80 defenses in an empty, lifeless Beasley Coliseum.

• It’s not official yet, but the current expectation is that the Pac-12 tournament gets played, but with no fans at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. No surprise there given the current COVID-19 climate, but I look forward to hearing what the virus protocols are once everyone arrives.

• Interesting move by Utah Valley to pick up a game across the country at St. John’s on Saturday afternoon. The WAC-leading Wolverines are on their bye week from conference play and coach Mark Madsen wanted a game instead of having a full two weeks off. The Johnnies wanted to add a game in the middle of a 10-day break between games, so here we are. This will be a good barometer for UVU, which, in this weirdo COVID-impacted season, has looked capable early in league play, but won’t see league heavyweights New Mexico State (Feb. 19-20) and Grand Canyon (March 5-6) until down the road.

Your questions

Q: “What impact has joining the Pac-12 had on the basketball program and as fans, do we need to alter our expectations from the glory days of dominating the WAC/Mountain West? (Basically, is it easier to be a big fish in a small pond?)” — @bowlingjonas

A: The impact of joining the Pac-12 is that Utah’s basketball program is playing high-stakes, big-boy, major college basketball, and that is absolutely better than playing in the old WAC or the Mountain West. If you’re a fan or an alum still wanting to play Air Force, Wyoming and Colorado State every year instead of UCLA, Arizona and Oregon, please join this decade. Heck, while you’re at it, please join the previous decade.

High-stakes, big-boy, major college basketball means Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak and his athletic director, Mark Harlan, should be working to get as close to the pinnacle as possible, which means a Final Four and a national championship. Whenever fans are let back in the Huntsman Center, look up at the rafters. The minimum accomplishment to get a banner hung in that building is a Sweet 16.

From a fan perspective, I don’t think there’s any reason Utah cannot at least be in the at-large conversation on an annual basis. An NCAA Tournament run to the second weekend every now and again is not asking too much, nor is Pac-12 regular-season title contention on at least a semi-regular basis.

From 1991-2003, Rick Majerus won six outright conference or division titles in the WAC and Mountain West, plus a share of three others. Expecting that level of annual success from the majority of Power Five programs is unreasonable. Expecting 30 wins more than once in a while is unreasonable, expecting three losses or fewer every year in conference-play is unreasonable.

I get it, though. Every fan base is forever chasing the high of the greatest moment in program history. At Utah, that bar is advancing to the national title game in 1998. You get to that level, you want it again, and again, and again.

My advice is to recalibrate your expectations, no matter who the coach is. Utah men’s basketball is capable of much more than what it has given over the last four-plus seasons, but what should it be expected to give every year? Probably less than what everybody demands.

Q: “What is your favorite jello?” — @coreyc04

A: First, if you see jello at a buffet or a social gathering, you never view it as the first option. Never. That said, give me cherry. Classic choice. No cherry? Any other berry variety will do. You can take orange and lime and put them right where they belong, the trash.

Q: “Who is a young up-and-coming coach on Utah’s staff that may be flying under the radar?” — @CoachPete58

A: He’s probably not flying under the radar at this point, but my first instinct here is Utes linebackers coach Colton Swan, who turned 40-years old in October.

Swan spent 15 years as a positional coach at his alma mater, Weber State, came to Utah as the linebackers coach in 2019, and that unit has been strong since his arrival.

Furthermore, Swan has shown some recruiting chops, most notably by helping seal the deal on four-star class of 2021 linebacker Ethan Calvert, who figures to be in the mix for two-deep reps as a freshman.

Q: “My question is what you see the future holding for Tommy Connor? No longer coach-in-waiting, I wonder what the likelihood is that he receives consideration, post-Coach Krystkowiak. His tenure at Westminster and as a Majereus player and assistant were so promising, but I feel like we haven’t heard much lately.” — @jaydhart

A: To clarify this for the unaware, Connor, Krystkowiak’s associate head coach, officially had a coach-in-waiting designation, but that was stripped by Mark Harlan in Aug. 2019 in the wake of mid-level recruiting violations levied against the program.

That situation aside, if Utah decides to move on from Krystkowiak, it stands to reason it will move on from the staff, too.

Keep this in mind: Harlan has not had to make a high-level coaching hire yet. I can’t imagine his first one is going to be the No. 1 assistant from the guy he just parted ways with.

Random musings

• Our excellent reporter who covers the Salt Lake City food and dining scene, Kathy Stephenson, touched on Detroit-style pizza earlier this week. Detroit-style is very underrated, if not excellent. Essentially, it is Sicilian pizza’s handsomer, wealthier older brother. I recommend it.

• My parents’ 50th wedding anniversary is Saturday, which got me thinking that pretty much all of my closest childhood friends had divorced parents. The cool part is, they actually still like each other after all this time.

• Joe Biden’s inauguration speech was so presidential, I wasn’t sure what country I was in given the last four years.

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