The University of Utah will conduct senior day festivities on Friday afternoon before the Utes host the University of Colorado (2 p.m., Fox), but who exactly will be involved is a mystery.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday morning that “we’ll probably have 15 to 17 guys walk, come out for the senior introductions.”
The Utes’ roster has 10 players listed with senior eligibility, which means, as of Monday morning, Whittingham was expecting at least five and as many as seven non-seniors to participate.
Redshirt junior wide receiver/return specialist Britain Covey said Monday evening after practice that he will participate in senior day, but has not made a decision about his future beyond that.
“I will go out and walk as a senior just in case, but that’s a decision my family and I will make before the bowl game, but after the Pac-12 championship game,” Covey said. “I just want to focus on the next couple of weeks, but I will walk.”
Covey, 24, is a fifth-year junior whose career dates back to 2015. The longtime Ute indicated during fall camp that he was at least considering that this could be his final collegiate season.
“In case they change their mind between now and then, I just don’t want to screw things up with that,” Whittingham said. “Some of them are still deciding. It’s not 100% set now, which ones are going to walk and which ones aren’t, so that’s just a ballpark guess.
“That doesn’t mean that every single one of those guys that’s a junior is definitely making a decision to move on. We could very well have guys that go through that ceremony decide to come back, which we would welcome. It’s better to err on that side than to not have them walk, and then if they leave, not to recognize them.”
Utah’s roster lists 17 players with junior eligibility and 18 sophomores. For what it’s worth, some of those sophomores are NFL draft-eligible, having been out of high school for at least three years. The group of draft-eligible sophomores includes quarterback Cam Rising and running back Tavion Thomas.
“There are quite a few guys in that same spot, underclassmen that aren’t sure what they’re going to do yet,” Covey said.
One of those players Covey alluded to is fifth-year junior defensive end Mika Tafua, a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who is headed for a third honor this fall. Tafua, the Pac-12 leader in sacks with 8.5, said Monday he wasn’t sure if he would walk on senior day.
Among Whittingham’s non-seniors, fifth-year junior linebacker Devin Lloyd technically has one more year of eligibility, but has already accepted a Senior Bowl invitation and is projected as a first-round pick in the NFL draft on April 28.
Another fifth-year junior with one season of eligibility remaining, versatile All-Pac-12 offensive lineman Nick Ford, is also expected to declare for the NFL draft.
Lloyd, Ford, and All-Pac-12 tight end Brant Kuithe, Utah’s leading receiver in 2018, 2019, and 2020, all flirted with leaving school for the NFL draft a year ago before all three ultimately decided to return.
Whittingham remains in favor of 12-team College Football Playoff, if not more
The fact that Whittingham has been a loud proponent of an expanded College Football Playoff came back around Monday after what his team did less than two days earlier.
Utah’s 38-7 win over No. 3 Oregon knocked the Ducks and, by extension, the Pac-12, out of CFP contention. The conference will be left out of the four-team event for the fifth straight season, while only two Pac-12 teams, 2014 Oregon and 2016 Washington, have ever qualified.
“The Pac-12, we’ve said it for a lot of years now, is very competitive, very balanced,” Whittingham said. “Nobody has had that breakout year where you go through the league unblemished, through the season undefeated. That’s pretty much what it takes with the four-game format.”
Proposed 12-team Playoff formats, including one that guarantees entry to each Power Five champion, have been bandied about for months. Such a format would solve the Pac-12′s problem of annually being left out, while potentially having the Pac-12 championship game runner-up in the mix for an at-large spot in some years.
Changes to the CFP format could be coming before the end of the year, but would not take effect until 2024.
Whittingham has voiced his support for 12 teams in the past, but, citing more money to be made, ultimately believes the future will see it expand even further to at least 16.
“Sixteen I think would be ideal, but 12 is a step in the right direction,” Whittingham said. “I think 16 would be the ultimate, but it’s not going to go there right away from what I understand.”
Devin Lloyd named Butkus Award finalist
Lloyd on Monday was named a finalist for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation’s top linebacker. Lloyd was also a Butkus Award finalist in 2020 despite Utah only playing a five-game season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The other finalists are Cincinnati’s Darrian Beavers, Wisconsin’s Leo Chenal, LSU’s Damone Clark, Georgia’s Nakobe Dean, and Wyoming’s Chad Muma.
The Butkus Award, named in honor of College Football Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus, will be presented by the Butkus Foundation on or before Dec. 7.
Lloyd is also a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award, given annually by the Maxwell Club to the nation’s top defensive player, but finalists have not yet been announced. That honor will be given on Dec. 9 as part of ESPN’s College Football Awards Show.