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A year after last rites were called for multiple times with the COVID-19 pandemic threatening the college football season, I can’t believe we are still here.
It is amazing, disheartening, frustrating and downright baffling that, knowing what we know and seeing what we’ve seen, COVID-19 cases in Utah on Wednesday were at their highest point since February. The vaccine figures here are not high enough. At least, not high enough to feel good about where we are collectively with this 18-month (and counting) global health emergency.
This is where we are, and while I can’t predict the future, here is one certainty I think you can take to the bank. Regardless of where the pandemic stands, no one has any intention of moving backward. Not Gov. Spencer Cox and his office, not the Utah Legislature, not business owners, not residents. There has been no indication from University of Utah athletic department officials that they intend to go backward with the Sept. 2 season-opener now 43 days away.
There is going to be college football this fall. There will be 12 regular-season games, stadiums will be full, TV revenue will come in full. All of that is happening, hell or high water. Playing a full season is an absolute necessity with Power Five athletic departments nationwide taking on varying degrees of eight-figure deficits during fiscal 2021, which included the pandemic-affected 2020 football season.
For context, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Utah’s athletics fiscal 2020 deficit was $32 million, a large number, but not as dire as other places across the Pac-12. Still, a second interrupted football season would have major repercussions, major financial consequences.
One key sign that college football is plowing forward has come this month as various FBS conferences conduct media days. If teams cannot meet roster minimums because of COVID and can’t play, those games will be forfeits. A year ago, those instances were ruled no-contests, of which Utah had two after an early-November virus outbreak. There has been no official word out of the Pac-12 if it will follow suit. The league will conduct its media day on Tuesday in Hollywood.
None of this is ideal, none of this is perfect, all of it has been messy and will continue to be until a lot more people get vaccinated or a lot more people get sick.
This is where we are. Where we’re going is Rice-Eccles Stadium on Sept. 2. You, me and 51,000 other people.
What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise
• Forget that Washington State head coach Nick Rolovich announced Wednesday he isn’t vaccinated. He also said he isn’t going to Pac-12 media day, which is a basic, core function of his job. He can be there with a mask on even if he is unvaccinated, but that’s apparently too much to deal with. That athletic department should be embarrassed.
• The University of Texas basketball team is going to be ranked in the top five to start the season. I wonder how much of a role former Ute Timmy Allen plays within that transfer-heavy rotation for new head coach Chris Beard.
• The Rose Bowl really needs to get over itself and get on board with the dynamic of the college football postseason. That the Rose Bowl could significantly hamper or at least alter the proposed 12-team College Football Playoff is silly.
• Utah will bring Britain Covey and Devin Lloyd to Pac-12 media day as player representatives. No surprise there. Two older, mature guys who will deftly answer questions, but not give away the farm. Covey, specifically, is a tremendous quote, so I’m looking forward to that. Not for nothing, those two being there means they’re both vaccinated.
Q: “A year ago, all we heard about was the awesome Jake Bentley and all his SEC experience. Why should we feel the same now when it comes to the new guy from Texas?” — @BrockSpore
A: My belief a year ago, based on nothing but resumes, was that Bentley would take control of a Utah quarterback room light on experience and win the job. I whiffed there, and I whiffed hard, especially after he was voted as a captain.
I assume nothing right now, but I have written in the past that I believe it will be hard for Cam Rising to beat out Charlie Brewer next month. I base that on resumes, yes, but also that Rising is coming off major shoulder surgery.
You can think what you want, but here are two things to consider. Take Brewer’s college resume and put it next to Bentley’s. They’re not even remotely the same. Two, go back and look at the things Kyle Whittingham said about Brewer during spring ball. Whittingham doesn’t talk about anyone the way he has spoken of Brewer.
Q: “How do you feel about Space Jam (as a franchise)?” — @Eric18Utah
A: I literally have no thoughts on this whatsoever. None.
I saw the original. I have not yet seen the LeBron James version, but I’m sure that will not move the needle for me in either direction.
I thought about this pretty hard before answering, and nope, I can’t muster much of anything here.
Q: “What former Ute player or coach (before you arrived here) do you wish you were able to cover?” — @coreyc04
A: Jakob Poeltl.
When Poeltl showed up here in 2014, he was not squarely on the NBA radar, but his ascension was pretty drastic. When he was a sophomore in 2015-16, I remember covering the Utah-Duke game at Madison Square Garden, and Poeltl was awesome. Nineteen points, 14 rebounds, absolutely the best player on the floor.
I would have enjoyed covering that ascension, from semi-obscure European prospect, to the No. 9 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. Poeltl played very well as a sophomore, so he had no choice but to leave after his sophomore season. But it would have been interesting to see where he would have landed in the 2017 Draft with one more season of college under Larry Krystkowiak, who knows a thing or two about NBA-level big guys.
Q: “Are IPAs overrated?” — @iampangean
A: Probably, but that’s never stopped me. They are definitely an acquired taste, but I really enjoy the different varieties.
West Coast IPAs, New England IPAs, a super-hoppy double IPA, give me all of the IPAs. Not at once, of course, because that would get messy.
What’s that? Pac-12 media day is next week? It’s in Los Angeles? Cool, get the Modern Times Orderville ready.
Q: “A lot of the off-season focus has been on the Utah QB battle, but do you have a thought on a projected starting RB? 105-degree dry heat or 95 degrees with 90% humidity? What aspect of the Ken Garff Red Zone will have an actual game day impact?” — @TheUFanCast
A: Kyle Whittingham said during spring practice that running back is likely to be a by-committee approach, but if we want to go through the exercise of guessing who gets the first carry, my instinct is T.J. Pledger, but part of me believes it’ll be Micah Bernard.
Give me 105-degree heat over 95 and 90% humidity. That said, once the temperature gets to a certain number, it’s unbearable, regardless of humidity.
I might be oversimplifying this, but wouldn’t the biggest game-day impact of the new south end zone structure be that you’re adding roughly 7,000 seats, so Rice-Eccles will be that much louder at key junctures? Am I missing something else?
Q: “Why isn’t stuffed crust the norm?” — @MrSmokinUte
A: Because we don’t need an extra layer of cheese built into something that already has plenty of cheese?
Stuffed crust is good, but always struck me as a little too aggressive, and better suited as more of a once-in-a-while deal. Stuffed crust’s place in the world of pizza crust is fine. Not every time, but sometimes, maybe save it for an occasion or a payday.
On this topic, Digiorno stuffed crust is excellent. Had one of those not too long ago because I saw it at Smith’s and got nostalgic. Hit the spot.
• Has anyone started watching “White Lotus” on HBO? The first scene of the first episode absolutely drew me in, but I have no idea where this show is going.
• A small-market team won the NBA championship this week. It’s not the first time, it won’t be the last, but I promise, it’s going to be OK.
• I have nothing else for y’all. It’s hot outside, football camp starts soon, I don’t know. Stay excellent this weekend.