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Red All Over: I think the University of Utah might be the favorite to win the Pac-12 South

Utes return nearly everyone of consequence, and have filled holes at various spots via the NCAA Transfer Portal.

(Ed Kosmicki | Special to The Tribune) The red team defensemen close in on black team running back T J Pledger during the annual spring football game at the University of Utah, 17 April 2021.

As we sit here on June 10, less than three months before college football kicks off, the NCAA Transfer Portal has (mostly) calmed down, rosters are (mostly) in place, Now, you can start to get at least a little bit of a feel on paper for pre-camp depth across the Pac-12, who has what, and which programs are legitimate contenders.

To that end, I’m looking at the Pac-12 South and Utah might be the favorite. I think. Maybe. There is at least a reasonable chance I’m right. I don’t have to decide this now, but I’m definitely leaning in that direction.

The Utes exited their five-game, COVID-impacted 2020 season with holes to fill, and they’ve done that.

Questions at quarterback? Charlie Brewer and Ja’Quinden Jackson have arrived from the transfer portal, with Brewer and Cam Rising set to engage in a fall camp quarterback competition. Rising, who injured his throwing shoulder in the 2020 opener, is expected to be a full participant at camp.

Questions at running back? Chris Curry and T.J. Pledger have arrived from the transfer portal, JuCo standout Tavion Thomas was a late get after spring practice to add more depth, and Micah Bernard is now entering his third year in the program. There’s plenty of options there, Utah will figure out what works best.

Questions at wide receiver? Yeah, maybe there’s still some questions there, but there’s less than there were two months ago. The latest news here is that USC transfer Munir McClain committed to the Utes last week. McClain has had injury (ACL) and off-field issues (suspension in connection with possible fraud related to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program), but if he can get it going, he could be a pretty big piece of the equation for Brewer or Rising.

Take all of that, plus the addition of Washington transfer Brandon McKinney at safety, which should alleviate the presumed loss of R.J. Hubert, and Utah does not have any obvious, dire position problems going into camp. I think there’s enough on this roster to win a division title. Whether or not there’s enough to win a Pac-12 title is a conversation for another day.

A few things to keep in mind here. History dictates that the South winner is going to hit a speed bump at some point. Since the conference went to 12 teams and two divisions in 2011, no one has gone unbeaten in the South in a normal, non-pandemic season. USC went 5-0 vs. a truncated schedule in 2020.

If Utah is going to win the South, it would greatly benefit from beating the Trojans at the LA Coliseum on Oct. 9. This is where I remind you Utah is 0-5 at the Coliseum since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.

That game at USC on Oct. 9, and a home game against Arizona State on Oct. 16, are likely everything. You get both of those, you’re in control of the South race. Even a split leaves you in the mix, but dropping both of them is simply a non-starter if this team wants to be playing in Las Vegas on Dec. 3.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. For now, on paper, this Utah team has enough talent and depth to get something real done.

I think. Maybe.

What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise

• So, Both Gach committed to Utah basketball last week. That’s a thing that happened. I’ve got something coming on that situation, but for now, I like that addition because he can guard three positions. He’s not a 40-minutes-per-game point guard, but he can slide in there as needed. Honestly, for how Craig Smith wants to operate, Gach strikes me as a quality late get.

• Between Gach and Illinois State transfer Dusan Mahorcic, Utah’s roster all of a sudden looks, on paper, like a capable, quality defensive unit. How much scoring is present sort of depends on how well some of these transfers adjust to the Power Five level, but there is absolutely enough defense to keep teams in the 60s. Smith’s last team at Utah State was an elite defensive unit, yielding 62.3 points per game. His previous two Aggies teams were not as good defensively, but still very solid. Utah is going to defend, and that’s going to make them a factor on a lot of nights against the Pac-12.

• Utah senior Poppy Tank is qualified for both the 5,000 (Thursday, 7:08 p.m.) and 10,000 meters (Saturday, 5:55 p.m.) at the NCAA Track and Field Championships. Competing in both long-distance events at NCAAs is by no means unprecedented, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy feat. Tank is the second Ute to qualify for both events, and the first since Jill Molen in 1982. Regardless of outcome, Tank is going to be one of Utah’s most-decorated runners ever, and has already cobbled together one of the best spring seasons in program history.

• NBA playoff ratings, and how a small-market team making the NBA Finals may affect the ratings, has absolutely no impact on my desire to keep watching, and I have no idea why anyone would care about such a thing. Personally, I think what’s happening right now in the NBA is fun. The Lakers are out, the Warriors are out, and there’s a lot of new blood trying to break through for the first time. The Jazz are exciting, the Suns are exciting, the Nuggets have the MVP, the Clippers are fighting uphill against their own history, the Nets are built for right now, as are the Sixers. Watch the games, enjoy them, and stop worrying which teams are better for TV. Honestly, who cares?

Random musings

• What is the biggest high-brow thing you do/own? I’ll start. I subscribe to The New Yorker. I read it cover-to-cover (yes, the actual print magazine), and sometimes, I like to do so over coffee, maybe out on my balcony if weather permits.

• Who do you think you are, walking up to me on the street and petting my dog? That’s a wild move in my opinion. Look, I’ll let you pet him, no problem, he’s friendly, but at least ask. Walking up to me, a stranger, and putting your hands on an animal you’ve never met is a violation of social normalcy.

• I spent last week in Seattle. Great city, love it up there, but let me tell you what “tourist attraction” you can skip. The very first Starbucks location, which is in Pike Place Market downtown, is ultimately ... wait for it ... just another Starbucks, save for some of the original branding outside. Congrats, you just waited on a 30-minute line wrapped around the block for regular ol’ Starbucks coffee.

• I tried Pretty Bird for the first time Wednesday night. Legit. I should have listened to you people much sooner.

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