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Craig Smith is still three months away from coaching his first game at the University of Utah, but he already has his first win.
As vaccination rates among college football programs continue to be a talking point with those respective seasons starting in less than a month, Smith revealed to The Salt Lake Tribune last week that his program is 100% vaccinated.
To be clear, 100% means just that. Fifteen players, all four members of the coaching staff, and at least six other people operating as members of the program’s support staff, including the athletic department’s director of athletic training, Trevor Jameson.
If any of his guys needed convincing, Smith can thank Jameson for his contribution to that cause. Jameson, for those who don’t know, had a major hand in steering this athletic department through Pac-12-produced daily-antigen testing last fall.
“We talked about vaccination right away (after getting hired on March 27), and Trevor Jameson, who’s been around forever of course, he did a brief talk about it,” Smith said. “These are the protocols, this is what we have to do, and our guys went and did it right away.
“And of course, some of our guys were already vaccinated already when we got hired, but the ones that weren’t, they got it done right away. We’ve had 100% for probably about three months.”
The benefits of everyone being vaccinated should be obvious, but just in case they aren’t, let’s go over it.
For starters, a vaccinated student-athlete is not subject to the daily testing, mask-wearing, and rigorous safety protocols that, let’s be honest here, marred the 2020-21 academic year across all three seasons.
As Smith put it, if Player A tests positive and comes in contact with unvaccinated Player B, Player B is out for 14 days due to contact tracing protocols. Run-of-the-mill muscle/ligament/bone injuries aside, the only way a vaccinated player is missing any time is if he tests positive, which, in fairness, is still a possibility even with the vaccine, but being vaccinated drastically lessens those chances.
Bottom line, his entire program being vaccinated lessens everyone’s stress level, which is a plus as Smith and his staff embark on year one in Salt Lake City.
“There’s just a lot less anxiety,” Smith said. “Our administration, our athletic training staff have done a very good job of educating and just talking about what the mandates are, what the protocols are, and then it’s up to the individual to make a decision as they deem fit, what’s best for them.
“With all of our guys willingly going to get vaccinated, it just makes life a lot easier.”
What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise
• With the fall semester starting Aug. 23, and add/drop at Utah closing Sept. 3, Smith acknowledged in that same interview that he doesn’t expect to use his 13th and final scholarship for 2021-22. I thought it was going this way for some time, but to hear Smith acknowledge it counts for more than what I think. This comes as no surprise as Smith and his staff have been very calculated, very deliberate with roster management since they arrived.
• Between what has been announced, what has been reported, and what nearly complete, but not yet signed off on, Smith’s first non-conference schedule has shaped up as smart and well-managed given his roster, and, quite frankly, very solid. Utah’s OOC will be good enough where, if the Utes take care of business, they will have a resume good enough where it can be in position for an at-large bid with a good showing vs. the 20-game Pac-12 schedule. Smith and his chief scheduler, assistant Eric Peterson, have done well to not overwhelm themselves in their first season here. Again, smart, well-managed, solid.
• Utah football debuted in the “receiving votes” category Tuesday when the USA TODAY Coaches Poll was released. The Utes were listed as the first team receiving votes. I say that because, no, Utah is not ranked No. 26 to start the season. Anyone thinking that needs to stop, anyone writing that needs a better editor. Utah is receiving votes in the coaches poll to open the season.
• One intriguing position battle at Utah camp this month is defensive end, where it’s freshmen Van Fillinger and Xavier Carlton vying to start opposite Mika Tafua. Kyle Whittingham has said positive things about both guys, but defensive ends coach Lewis Powell peeled the curtain back a little more Wednesday. Powell said coming out of spring practice, the staff thought Carlton was “the guy, and he still might be.” Fair enough. Whittingham has made clear that both Carlton and Fillinger are part of the future at the position, but at least one of them is going to benefit greatly from Maxs Tupai not being with the team this fall.
• Collin Chandler, a four-star, top-75 shooting guard from Farmington High School, had a big summer for the Under Armour-backed Utah Prospects, so focus now turns to the latter stages of this recruitment. Chandler told Rivals late last month that Stanford, Utah State, Arizona, BYU, Utah, Creighton, Oregon are showing the most love. Utah is deep in there and is expected to get an official visit at some point this fall. Stanford and Arizona have the family’s attention and are also expected to get official visits from Chandler, who. for what it’s worth, is LDS.
Q: “Looking at the football schedule, which game would you label as a “trap” game? -- @MrSmokinUte
A: If Utah is 3-0, Washington State on Sept. 26 at Rice-Eccles Stadium strikes me as a trap game. Home game, before a bye, USC coming after the bye.
If things have gone swimmingly and the Utes are in control of the Pac-12 South at 6-0, Oct. 23 at Oregon State feels like something to keep an eye on. If you’re laughing at the notion of a 6-0 Utes team losing to a Beavers team projected at the bottom of the Pac-12 North, well, that’s why they call it a trap game, folks.
Q: “What line would you set for Utah’s O/U on wins this season?” -- @Johnnyj20
A: Have we been over this before? Maybe, but let’s do it again.
I think the sharps and the various sportsbooks hit the nail on the head, installing Utah’s over/under at 8.5 wins. I wrote a few weeks ago that I think the floor for this Utah team is 8-4, with 10-2 certainly plausible if things break right, so I split the difference and set my prediction at 9-3.
All of that said, if Charlie Brewer is the starting quarterback, he is the type of experienced, big-armed, big-resume quarterback Kyle Whittingham has never had at his disposal. If Brewer wins the job and starts out well, expectations may have to be altered.
Q: “If Rising does win the starting job, but then he struggles, how long will his leash be knowing that Brewer is a proven and more-than-capable QB.” -- @Reilly_kb93
A: In my short tenure covering Kyle Whittingham, he does not strike me as someone making rash personnel decisions based on a small sample size. That said, if Rising beats out Brewer for the job, I think it’s going to be a long leash, because that is what the early-season schedule will allow.
To me, opening against Weber State is a good opportunity to tweak some things if need be. If Rising struggles, they’ll tweak some things before going to BYU on Sept. 11. They won’t bench him.
Furthermore, if Rising wins the job, that means Whittingham and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig trust that he is the best option, and if Rising is the best option, it will not be a short leash. A short leash means the starter is looking over his shoulder every day, so if they think Rising is the best option, what positive outcome could there possibly be by having him worry about job security?
Q: “Who has the best “first off the bus” build that isn’t Devin Lloyd?” -- @LurchitoUte
A: Not a good question, but a great question, mostly because I’m a big eye test guy.
I looked up and down the roster trying to come up with an answer, but it’s tough with no access to practice and limited access to the players.
That said, 6-foot-8, 330-pound Bam Olaseni is just a massive human being, but 6-foot-4, 270-pound second-year freshman Van Fillinger is an athletic specimen. Long muscular arms, seemingly not an ounce of fat on him.
The key thing to know here is, @LurchitoUte hit it. Devin Lloyd is absolutely Utah’s best “first off the bus” guy.
Q: “Keeping his latest interception of a former BYU QB in mind, should the Jets fully embrace a timeshare on Guidry Island?” -- @Tim_Populi
A: I laughed, Tim knows the vibes.
This is in reference to Javelin Guidry, a two-time All-Pac-12 nickel back at Utah, intercepting Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, a BYU guy, at training camp on Saturday.
Uh, no. The Jets will not be pinning their hopes for a competent secondary on Guidry, who, credit to him, has parlayed a free agent contract into becoming the Jets’ top option at nickel. Guidry is on the cornerback two-deep, so let’s keep forcing fumbles, let’s keep making some plays, let’s give me a reason to be invested beyond Columbus Day.
Also, if Wilson could stop throwing picks, that would be terrific.
Q: Does Utah have: a “shutdown corner,” an “eraser at safety,” a “violent pass rusher,” a wide receiver that can “take the top off the D,” a left tackle that can “protect the blindside.” -- @VegasUte
A: Yes. I don’t think so? Legitimately maybe. Yes, I look forward to finding out.