Red All Over: Utah football stadium renovations include a new end-zone restaurant

Utah opens the 2021 season in 48 days against Weber State at Rice-Eccles Stadium

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Olympic cauldron is returned to the University of Utah on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021, after a refurbishment to lengthen its life span. Removed in February 2020, the cauldron was transported to an off-site location, where all 738 glass panes were removed and the complete structure was sandblasted and refinished. The refurbished structure was placed on a newly constructed, 17-foot-tall pedestal, just north of the stadium ticket office, with plans to add high-quality glass.

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I’ve been sitting here for over an hour, staring at my laptop, staring at this empty 12-ounce bottle of Diet Coke, thinking about what to do for dinner, wondering how I am going to lead off this newsletter.

After all, these are the dog days of the football offseason. Spring practice ended three months ago. Anything I was holding on to after spring ball for later use was used long ago.

Utah is just inside 50 days from playing Weber State and 20-ish days from opening fall camp. Head coach Kyle Whittingham, athletic director Mark Harlan and a couple of players are less than two weeks away from speaking at Pac-12 media day in Hollywood.

I’ve recently done a schedule breakdown and took a stab at identifying the five most-important players on the roster. It’s going to be more ideas like this for another 12 days until there is something real to get into.

Until then, here I am, still sitting here, still staring at this Diet Coke bottle, wishing it were July 27.

There is one Utah football-related thought running through my head, though, so let’s do that so y’all can get to reading the rest of this thing.

Late Wednesday morning, the athletic department announced the aforementioned Sept. 2 season-opener vs. Weber State will kick off at 5:30 p.m. The opener finally has a start time attached to it, which, to me, makes the coming season feel a little more real.

There are those who will scoff at a late-afternoon, weeknight kickoff, but let me ask you something. Would you rather have a late-afternoon, weeknight kickoff, or the constant threat of no season at all, which is what we were doing at this time last year. I’ll wait.

In any case, we’ll get there. We’ll get through these final days of the offseason, we’ll get to media day, we’ll get to camp, we’ll get to the Weber State game.

For now, I wonder if there’s any more Diet Coke in my fridge.

What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise

• If Utah is going to make use of its 13th and final basketball scholarship for 2021-22, it’s starting to get a little late. The NBA Draft deadline came and went last week and at this point, your options are in front of you. Yes, more movement can happen in the transfer portal, and the Utes roster doesn’t need to be final for several more weeks, but there shouldn’t be any more significant surprises or options coming forward. Utah is at 12 scholarships, and there is no rule that says it has to use No. 13 if it doesn’t want to. The Utes wouldn’t be the only program in the country rolling with 12.

Utes tight end Brant Kuithe signing with DEC Management as an NIL marketing client is noteworthy, but my major takeaway from that was, DEC has its foot in the door with Kuithe and becomes the obvious frontrunner to sign Kuithe as a client once he declares for the NFL Draft next winter. DEC, for what it’s worth, has inked a bunch of Utah football players in the past, most recently Bradlee Anae and John Penisini before the 2019 Draft.

Incoming Utes freshman guard Lazar Stefanovic had an optimistic showing for Serbia at the FIBA Under-19 World Cup last week in Latvia, averaging 12.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists across six games as the Serbs fell in the bronze medal game to Canada. While the rest of the roster is on campus, I’m told Stefanovic is due to arrive in Salt Lake City about a month from now, in time for the start of the fall semester. How well he adjusts to the American style of play will help dictate what his role is at the outset, but I suspect he’s going to figure it out and be in the mix for immediate rotation minutes.

• Utah State athletic director John Hartwell went on 106.9 The Fan in Logan last week. He and Aggies coach-turned-Utah coach Craig Smith have apparently talked about playing each other, but Hartwell was adamant that he would only sign on for a home-and-home, not merely a one-off at the Huntsman Center. I look forward to seeing how this evolves. There are less than 10 mid-major programs that can even consider commanding a straight home-and-home versus a Power Six program, and Utah State is not one of them. However, this is a bit of a different deal, with Smith having coached in Logan and these two schools being only 90 minutes apart. For what it’s worth, no Power Six team has played at the Spectrum since Mississippi State in Nov. 2013.

Your questions

Q: “Will the new south section of RES have a restaurant? I’ve heard rumors one will be opened to the public on non-football game days.” -- Jon Bernal

A: The short answer to this question is, yes, there will be a restaurant as part of the Ken Garff Red Zone. Full details are not yet available, but there are some. Below is what the athletic department provided me on Tuesday.

“Yes, there is a restaurant in the Ken Garff Red Zone at Rice-Eccles Stadium, and it’s located at the top level, behind the Premium Terrace seating section, just below the scoreboard. It will operate a little differently on game days than during the week, but that’s the basic information. More to come.”

Q: “Two questions! With the new Pac-12 commish, in football, does he ‘reevaluate’ nine conference games? Meaning do you think he’ll push to lower it to eight? In your opinion, football, percentages 0-100%, how likely is it that the Utes finish undefeated?” -- @corey_cheech

A: Who gave you permission to ask two questions?

Late last month, in the days before new Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff took over on July 1, Jon Wilner of The Mercury News reported that going from nine conference games to eight is on the table. To me, that is a good idea, but like all good ideas, it has pros and cons. This change is not happening tomorrow, but it is one that will be on everyone’s mind as College Football Playoff Expansion looms.

How likely is it that Utah finishes undefeated, meaning 12-0 with a road win at USC and a late-November home win over Oregon? It is very unlikely. Possible? Uh, I guess, but that scenario has never entered my mind.

Know this, though: A Pac-12 championship game including 12-0 Utah would be the biggest game in the history of the program.

Q: “What are your thoughts on the more-deliberate recruiting tactic that Craig Smith seems to be taking here (two offers) vs. some of his contemporaries in the league that have double-digit and, in some cases, over 20 offers out for ’22 and ’23?” -- Anonymous

A: For context, there appear to be only two University of Utah offers out to the Class of 2022. One belongs to Farmington star guard Collin Chandler, the other belongs to ThunderRidge (Colo.) High School forward Zach Keller. Chandler and Keller are both four-star recruits playing their AAU ball for the Utah Prospects on the adidas circuit.

In my opinion, this is the more sensible route to go, identifying who you want and diving in head first on them. For what it’s worth, when the adidas circuit hit Birmingham, Alabama last weekend, Smith and Utes assistant coach Tim Morris were in the house, with Smith photographed a small handful of times taking in Utah Prospects games.

Offering a double-digit number of prospective recruits is a long-standing tactic that I just don’t understand. Not every one of those offers is a committable offer, and if it’s not a committable offer, what’s the point?

Q: “Guilty-pleasure adult beverage you are secretly, if not shamefully, enjoying this summer?” -- @StaircaseWhitt

A: The Aperol spritz found 15 minutes of fame a couple of years back, mostly because The New York Times said it wasn’t any good, but its logic was rooted in the use of low-quality Prosecco and too much ice.

Yeah, if you order an Aperol spritz at a bar/restaurant, you’re likely to get subpar ingredients, and you’re also going to pay through the nose for the right to be disappointed.

An Aperol spritz is a strictly at-home, end-of-the-day, relaxation deal, allowing me to dictate the ingredients, including the amount of ice, which is critical. Done right, they are delightful, refreshing, and hit the spot on a hot summer afternoon/evening, of which there have been many in our fair city.

Ready? In a red wine glass on the larger end, I go with four ice cubes, two-and-a-half parts La Marca Prosecco, one part aperol, and a splash, just a SPLASH, of Pellegrino.

Yeah, man. I’m quietly high-brow enough to tell you to go with Pellegrino. What of it?

Random musings

• I was embarrassingly late to Ted Lasso. Great show, looking forward to Season 2 next week.

• White Men Can’t Jump is my favorite basketball movie. I keep telling myself that, on one of these work trips to Los Angeles, I’m going to do a driving tour of all of the courts from the movie. Including Pac-12 media day, I should be in Southern California three times between July 27 and Oct. 9. Gotta get it done. Shouts to Eddie “The King” Faroo and Duck Johnson.

• After trying both over the span of three days last week, Aggie Ice Cream is better than the BYU Creamery, and I didn’t think it was particularly close.

• Buds, down on 300 South, makes a hell of a vegan sandwich if you are into such things. Big recommendation from me, who dabbles in vegan fare pretty often. The fact there were eight people wearing Chacos outside the place while waiting for their respective orders fit in nicely with the whole vibe.