Utes mailbag: What has been your favorite moment of this Utah football season?

Readers ask about eats on the road, the basketball team’s chances at the NIT, how long will this football staff stay together, and more

(Marcio Jose Sanchez | AP) Utah wide receiver Devaughn Vele, left, makes a touchdown catch past Southern California cornerback Chris Steele (8) on Oct. 9, 2021, in Los Angeles.

There have been a lot of memorable moments throughout this University of Utah football season, but of course, there are a handful of moments that stand out above the rest.

Let’s start this Utah Utes mailbag with the best.

As always if you have a question for the Utah Utes mailbag, you can fire off a tweet to @Joshua_Newman, slide into my DMs, email me at jnewman@sltrib.com, or even leave a comment at the bottom of this story.

Q: “What has been your favorite moment of this season so far?” - @StaircaseWhitt

A: My knee-jerk reaction here was to say the atmosphere at the Pac-12 championship game, but let’s go with something less obvious.

The Cam Rising-to-Devaughn Vele flea-flicker to close the first half at USC on Oct. 9 feels like one of the most important moments of the season.

Remember, there was a lot going on that night. That was the first game after Aaron Lowe’s death. The program was flying to Dallas two days later for Lowe’s funeral. And USC is a place where Utah has had all sorts of trouble over the last decade.

The flea-flicker, a play that was rooted in Rising hearing the call in his helmet, then reading his wristband incorrectly, put the Utes in total control of a game they won, 42-26, at the LA Coliseum.

Utah did not have control of the Pac-12 South at that point, and USC’s season turned into a dumpster fire, but that win felt like something significant. No one actually knew what was to come, but that night felt like a moment where the Utes announced they would be trouble for everyone for the next two months, which turned out to be true.

Q: “Best food throughout the season at an opposing venue and the meal? Football or basketball.” - @lisadancefit

A: When you say “opposing venue,” are we talking about a road stadium, or a road city? I’m going with the latter, because who really cares what the media meal in the press box is?

For the Oregon State trip, I stayed in Portland. I like the vibe of Portland, especially its selection of dark, dank dive bars, but I digress. There is a very hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop on NE 14th Avenue called Taste Tickler. I went twice, once before driving to Corvallis and again the next day before going to the airport. That’s how good I thought it was.

After Utah beat Arizona in Tucson, I had dinner at an old Mexican standby, Mi Nidito, which was made famous in 1999 when then-President Bill Clinton stopped by on short notice. Tried and true, Mi Nidito did not disappoint. It never does.

Q: “Thoughts about the basketball team getting to the NIT this year?” - @TribTomWharton

A: Interesting. This had not crossed my mind yet, mostly because it’s way too early to consider such a thing, but I’ll play along.

As of Wednesday, Utah’s NET ranking was 66. The Utes are 0-3 combined against Quadrant 1 and 2 opponents, but 7-0 against Quadrants 3-4. Again, it is very early, but that sort of resume does not lend itself to getting to the NIT, let alone the NCAA Tournament.

There is plenty of time to pick up quality wins, but for now, Utah has beaten nobody, and when I say “nobody,” I mean the Utes do not have a resume-bumping win. The loss to TCU, which was KenPom No. 67 at the time, wasn’t detrimental, but that would have helped the cause.

As a point of reference, the 2020 Utes were likely going to the NIT, even at just 16-15, because they had a bunch of quality wins, Minnesota, Kentucky, Stanford and Colorado among them. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 postseason.

Q: “Twenty years ago Miami played Nebraska in the BCS National Championship game. Do you believe either of these schools could make it back there in the next 20 years?” - @OuterDarknezz

A: The college football landscape has been so drastically altered over the last two decades. Who’s to say what the next 20 years will look like, what programs may emerge, or even remain as national championship contenders?

Let’s boil this question down to a thought on Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have the facilities, the money, the prestige, all of the wherewithal to ascend back to contending for national championships on at least a semi-regular basis. At an absolute minimum, Nebraska should be fighting to win the Big Ten West, the lesser of the two Big Ten divisions, every year. Let’s see what Scott Frost does in 2022, but if Nebraska moves on from him, that job always struck me as one that should draw the best candidates.

On the flip side of everything I just wrote, as someone who covered the Big Ten for a few years, Nebraska’s fanbase is the most delusional, most irrational I have ever dealt with. Some of that also falls on the administration.

Go look up the head coaching records of Frank Solich and Bo Pelini, and tell me I’m wrong.

Q: “Personal question: Best game you ever attended as just a fan?”

Utes question: “How much longer does this entire football coaching staff stick together?” -- @unholiestjedi

A: The 2002 Jets started 2-5, then ripped off seven of nine with Chad Pennington at quarterback to steal the AFC East. They hosted the Colts in the Wild Card game at the old Giants Stadium, with me, my father and my brother in the upper deck behind one end zone. Just an absolute domination, 41-0, over a 10-win Colts team that featured Peyton Manning before he ascended to true superstardom. That game, Jan. 4, 2003, was the last time the Jets hosted a playoff game.

As for the Utes ... When a program has had as much success as Utah has had lately, other programs are sure to try and poach assistant coaches, so the concern here is valid, but I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like Morgan Scalley is going anywhere any time soon, and outside of some internet rumblings that Andy Ludwig was in the mix to be the Auburn offensive coordinator, his name isn’t really out there.

If we’re talking about non-coordinators, I think Kiel McDonald is an ace recruiter and has done an excellent job this season of managing a deep running backs room. I also think Colton Swan, now in his third season as linebackers coach, has shown big recruiting chops, while coaching Devin Lloyd into an All-American and Nephi Sewell into an All-Pac-12-level talent.

If another program came calling for those two, no one should act surprised.

Q: “Can you speak to what you think our tight ends room may look like next year? I have been watching all of the new Utah commits and I am very hopeful as I think the future looks bright. I know that this is a tough question because we do not know who is going to return.” - Emailer Scott

A: Not all NFL draft decisions have been made, but personally, I am working under the assumption that any non-senior who walked on senior day on Nov. 26 is not returning in 2022. Those non-seniors include all three main tight ends, Cole Fotheringham, Dalton Kincaid, Brant Kuithe. Fotheringham already announced he will enter the NFL draft, while announcements from Kuithe and Kincaid are still pending.

If all three leave, that’s going to be a major spring practice storyline, because the tight ends room without them will be young and inexperienced. Although, the transfer portal has already yielded a couple of tight ends in Syracuse transfer Landon Morris and Idaho transfer Logan Kendall.

One thought: Can Thomas Yassmin take a significant step forward and fill some of the space left by Kuithe, Kincaid and Fotheringham?