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Red All Over: A shift in Utah’s wide receivers corps this week was a net positive for the Utes

Bryan Thompson is transferring, but Jaylen Dixon will return to Utah in 2021 after catching 56 passes for 932 yards between the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes wide receiver Jaylen Dixon (25) runs the ball as Colorado Buffaloes safety Lucas Cooper (37) brings him down, in PAC-12 football action between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.

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There appeared to be quite a bit of agita within the Utah football fan base Tuesday afternoon when news broke that redshirt junior wide receiver Bryan Thompson had entered his name into the NCAA Transfer Portal.

I get that. Older guy, a big downfield target, a starter in 2020, clearly part of the plan for Andy Ludwig’s offense. Thompson is not an insignificant loss.

About four hours later, Jaylen Dixon (remember him?) cryptically indicated on Twitter that he is returning to Utah in 2021. Dixon entered the transfer portal in October, with Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham saying at the time that “perhaps new surroundings and a fresh start would do him some good and I’m all for that, we’re all for that.”

My opinion on Wednesday’s roster shift: It’s a net positive. You’d rather not see a talented player like Thompson transfer, but Utah is losing 33 catches, 756 yards and four touchdowns in 33 career games, while regaining 56 catches for 932 and three touchdowns in 28 career games from Dixon.

At 5-foot-9, Dixon does not have the size of Thompson, but he has shown the ability to blow the lid off a defense, while clearly producing during the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Not playing football in 2020 is something to consider in terms of fitness and readiness, but that can be worked out with practice and reps. Furthermore, whatever behind-the-scenes issues there were appear to have been resolved.

“He was going through some off-the field things,” Whittingham said Wednesday morning on SiriusXM Pac-12 Radio. “It wasn’t related to playing time, production, or any of that stuff, and that’s why he had the invitation to come back. It was special circumstances.

“We’re glad he’s on solid ground now, and his attitude is very good. He’s involved with the workouts and doing everything right at this point in time.”

Utah’s pass-catching options are numerous, both at receiver and tight end. Britain Covey, Solomon Enis and Brant Kuithe combined for 55 catches last season. A healthy Samson Nacua in 2021 would help, and so would Dixon, assuming health and him being fully engaged.

My opinion on Utah’s offense, on paper, minus Thompson: There are questions at quarterback and at running back, but the personnel is plenty good enough to contend for the Pac-12 South.

No, Thompson leaving the program is not a positive, but the totality of Wednesday’s happenings were.

What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise

Utah should count itself lucky that it only has two games to make up, because Arizona State has six. At this point, there is little to no chance that every team in the Pac-12 will end up playing 20 conference games. There simply isn’t enough time to get everything in.

• Collectively, the Pac-12 isn’t having a bad year. Stanford is squarely on the bubble, but the league has five teams looking good for NCAA Tournament berths. That number would be six had Arizona not self-imposed a one-year postseason ban. If I’m sticking to my long-held belief that sending half your teams to the Big Dance constitutes a good season for a conference, then the Pac-12 is having a good season.

• Per a league spokesman and multiple league sources, the expectation remains that the Pac-12 tournament is played, as scheduled, with all 11 eligible teams participating at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said as much Wednesday during one of his twice-a-month appearances on ESPN700. I have something on this topic brewing for next week.

• The calendar is tight, but it might be a good idea for BYU to at least consider trying to squeeze in a high-level nonconference game at some point to improve its NCAA Tournament resume. The Cougars are not (yet) in danger of sliding on to the bubble, but another WCC loss to the wrong team might do it. Getting a top-75-ish nonconference win would only help the cause, while a loss to a team like that would not crush the resume. Just some food for thought as this weirdo COVID season starts to wind down.

• EA Sports is bringing back its NCAA Football franchise. It won’t be back in time for the 2021 season, but it’s coming. When it does, EA should do a series of regional covers, and it should put Ty Jordan on one in this part of the country.

Your questions

Q: “What league would you like to see the Pac-12 play in an in-season “challenge”? Let’s pretend the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and ACC aren’t available.” — @AJCrowley42

A: I’ll up the degree of difficulty here and pretend the Big East isn’t available either.

If you take the rest of the Power Six out of the equation, there is no obvious answer, because you’re left with a bunch of mid-major conferences, and really, why would the Pac-12 sign on for an in-season showcase against a league where losses would harm the resume?

In a vacuum, give me the Pac-12 vs. the West Coast Conference, but I doubt there would be enough interest to have every team from both conferences involved.

Take the Pac-12′s projected best team, or at least its most-attractive team, and pair it with Gonzaga. BYU gets a game, same with Santa Clara (Herb Sendek is a name the average fan knows), Pacific (Damon Stoudemire is a name everyone knows), and San Francisco (Todd Golden is a good, young up-and-coming head coach).

This is a good idea, but for a variety of reasons, it’s never going to happen.

Q: “Name three athletes that made you fall in love with sports?” — @Eric18Utah

A: This was harder than I thought it would be beyond No. 1, but here we go.

1. Patrick Ewing: I idolized the Knicks Hall of Fame center. Me, and a bajillion other New York kids of a certain age.

2. Michael Jordan: I’m a product of my era. Jordan was THE guy. In fact, he still is.

3. Curtis Martin: I was a teenager in 1997 by the time Martin came to the Jets, but his tenure made me fall totally, unapologetically, hopelessly in love with the team. They have yet to love me back, but I digress.

Q: “What is the status of Utah’s baseball stadium?” — @LimburgGarth

A: Keep waiting, you’re at least years away.

Utah announced early plans for a 2,000-seat on-campus baseball stadium nearly five years ago. The cost was pegged at $7.5 million, all of it funded by donors, with the baseball team beginning play there in 2018.

A shovel has not yet entered the ground on this project.

At this point, the primary objective in terms of athletics-related construction and renovation appears to be getting the $3 million together to renovate the Dumke Gymnastics Center.

Until then, the Utes will continue to play at Smith’s Ballpark, which is a great facility, but located several miles from campus.

Q: “What is a sport you don’t know much about, but wish you did?” — @highguyshyguy

A: Ice hockey.

Truth be told, I grew up a pretty big Rangers fan, and went to a lot of Islanders games as a kid, but I was never hardcore enough to really want to understand the game. I wish I had.

My father, a diehard Rangers fan, was effectively done rooting when the franchise finally won a Stanley Cup in 1994, and I pretty much followed suit. At that point, basketball had my full attention, and that was that.

Random musings

• RIP to my favorite pizza place, Rose’s, which sits in the middle of the Long Island Railroad terminal at Penn Station. It wasn’t the best pizza around, but it was my favorite. You’re at Penn to catch a train and want a quick bite? Rose’s. You’re getting off the A-train and have to walk across the LIRR terminal to get to the 1, 2, or 3-train? Rose’s. You want an adult beverage for the train home? Rose’s, but make sure it’s in a brown bag, or the cops will want to have a word. She will be dearly missed.

• If I were Jeff Bezos, I would go as far off the grid as possible. New cell number, with no more than six people having access to it. Remember in Entourage, when Medillin bombed, and Vince fled to some island paradise with Turtle, and only Drama knew the number to reach him? Same idea, except it’s forever.

• Chiefs 27, Buccaneers 20

• The temperature in Salt Lake City cracked 40 degrees a few times this week, while parts of the northeast got two feet of snow. Advantage: Salt Lake City.

• The Dodo Restaurant in Sugar House: Solid, very solid. Good lunch option, I look forward to actually going in there for happy hour if we ever get back to normal.

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