Utah Utes mailbag: Does Utah really need to keep playing BYU?

Plus: Where is the hoops team’s next win coming from, Lander Barton as a five-star, how to eat a muffin, and more

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Brigham Young Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake visits with Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham during warm-ups before football action between the Utah Utes and the Brigham Young Cougars at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo, on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.

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Last year’s game was the 101st meeting between Utah and BYU. Should there be a 102nd? Let’s start this Utes mailbag right there.

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: “Does Utah really need/want to play BYU ever again? In any sport? We don’t need them on our schedule and they (now) will say they don’t need Utah. Good riddance.” - @haroldforreal

A: Let’s keep this to football, and after that, we’ll sprinkle some men’s basketball on top.

You may think the football programs don’t need each other, but they’re going to see each other over the next decade.

The last time I went in depth on this topic with Utah athletic director Mark Harlan was August, weeks ahead of the Utah-BYU football game. At the time, Harlan was adamant that he was in favor of the rivalry, which will take a two-year break before being played each season between 2024-28, then once more in 2030, which is a makeup of the 2020 game that was canceled due to COVID-19. Those contracts are signed. Harlan said then, and again during a Salt Lake Tribune interview ahead of the Rose Bowl that he does not intend to break non-conference contracts as the Alliance scheduling between the Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten begins to take shape.

One big factor as it pertains to the football rivalry is what BYU plans to do with its independent scheduling once it starts play in the Big 12 in 2023. Some of those agreed-upon games are going to have to go. Will Utah become a victim of those circumstances? It will likely be a good while before we find out.

My take on this has not changed much. The rivalry dynamics have been altered with the Utes and Cougars no longer playing in the same conference, but I’m in favor of it because, if nothing else, it puts a bright light on this state’s two-biggest athletic departments. I echo Harlan that rivalries are important for college football, and Utah and BYU have a high-profile, generational matchup that, when both teams are good like they are now, creates a ton of buzz. Keep playing it.

As for men’s hoops, I have no reason to believe that Utah and BYU will not keep playing beyond completion of the current four-year agreement, and here’s one reason why.

Craig Smith has said many times since he arrived in Salt Lake City that he wants to schedule with the intention of creating a non-conference resume worthy of the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Well, assuming Mark Pope sticks around and BYU continues on its current trajectory, playing the Cougars is going to continue being a good resume opportunity for Smith’s program.

Does Utah need BYU for hoops? I guess not, but a win there would only help. Does BYU need Utah for hoops? I guess not, but a win there would only help.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes forward Dusan Mahorcic (21) pulls down a rebound in game action against the Washington State Cougars at the Jon M.Huntsman Center, on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022. Utah lost 61-77.

Q: “Are there two more wins on the Utes’ hoop schedule? Three More?” - @MacSporkTwo

A: There are 10 games left in the regular season. To be clear, given the struggles of the last month, none of those 10 games should be considered a gimmie.

That said, assuming Branden Carlson comes back at some point this week, either at Washington State on Wednesday or Washington on Saturday, the Utes will be as healthy as they’ve been at any point over the last two months. Furthermore, I think Utah has continued to play hard and has looked better over the last two weeks.

Scanning these last 10 games, yeah, on paper, there are three wins there if things break right and guys stay healthy. The Washington game on Saturday night, which would feature Carlson’s return, or maybe one game removed from his return, is a tough ask at HecEd, but the Huskies are not nearly good enough to cross that off as a Utes loss.

Oregon State (Feb. 3) is not good, they’ve already beaten Cal (Feb. 19), they’ve already gone toe-to-toe with Arizona State (Feb. 26). Beyond those four games, Stanford (Feb. 17) has been a little Jekyll-and-Hyde, and wonky things have happened in the recent past vs. Colorado (Feb. 12, March 5).

I don’t think asking for three wins in the final 10 is asking for too much, nor would I be shocked if Utah gets more than three going into the Pac-12 Tournament beginning March 9 in Las Vegas.

Q: “What does the fifth star for Lander Barton mean for future football recruiting, if anything?” - @UnholiestJedi

A: I assume the Utah coaching staff can (will?) use the fact that On3 bumped the incoming freshman linebacker to a five-star prospect earlier this week to its advantage. “Hey, look, this is the type of athlete we’re able to recruit. This is the type of athlete you’ll be able to play with if you come here.” Something along those lines.

Barton went from No. 186 in On3′s class of 2022 rankings, all the way up to No. 28 after a strong showing at the Under Armour All-American Game. I have never pretended to be a recruiting expert, but one well-known recruiting guy reached out to me on Tuesday night and called Barton “worthy” of that five-star label. Fair enough.

For what it’s worth, Rivals moved the Brighton High School star this week from No. 187 to No. 94, leaving him as a four-star.

Depending on what time you’re reading this mailbag on Wednesday, my understanding is that 247 is going to release its final 2022 rankings sometime in the morning, at which time Barton is going to get a huge jump there as well, but not quite into five-star territory.

Can the coaching staff use all of this? Yeah, probably. What does it really mean? I don’t know exactly, but probably not as much as Utah fans want to believe. Is Barton going to be in the immediate mix this spring summer to play at a position left vacant by Devin Lloyd and Nephi Sewell? I think so.

(Ed Zurga | AP) Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass Sunday evening.

Q: “At the edge of a cliff about to be pushed off based on your answer, do you double down on NFL OT rules or do you want change? Why? Choose wisely” - @ShortStackUte

A: I’m happy to answer this without the threat of falling to my certain death, but OK.

I hate the NFL’s overtime rules, which puts a huge advantage on winning the coin toss. A touchdown on the opening possession of overtime winning the game, and not giving the other team an opportunity to have the ball, is silly. In no other sport’s overtime is that the case.

The NFL’s overtime rules are akin to an extra-innings baseball game where a run in the top of 10th inning would end it without giving the home team an opportunity to answer. That of course makes no sense, and neither do the NFL’s rules.

The college football overtime rules are not without some rightful debate, but I would like to see the NFL adopt something similar. Maybe not starting at the 25-yard line like in college, but one team starts with the ball and the other team gets an opportunity to answer, no matter what the first team does.

I understand there are TV contracts, time constraints, and people wanting to watch 60 Minutes on CBS that help dictate how these things are settled upon, but if the powers that be can toss games on Monday and Tuesday afternoons on a dime because of COVID troubles, they can surely figure out a better, more-equitable solution to what are, frankly, nonsensical OT rules, especially when it comes to playoff games.

Q: “What are your thoughts on finishing the Pac-12 football regular season with a 1-4 game tournament, where the winner of each bracket plays in the Pac-12 championship? You can keep the bracket going for losing teams to make sure they play 12 games.” - @UtahPuntTeam

A: I can appreciate this outside-the-box thinking in trying to make the Pac-12 regular season juicier down the stretch, but I have two thoughts here.

One, such an event would drastically alter all sorts of logistics for the teams that would have to travel. Regular-season road trips, and most everything that comes along with them, are arranged months in advance. Teams would have to move heaven and earth, probably unsuccessfully, to make plans for a road trip on short notice. From that end, this idea is likely untenable.

Two, FBS conference championship games are already money grabs, so why would we want to add to that by giving the second-place teams an opportunity to play for something they have not earned? You finish second in the Pac-12 North or South, yet that gives you an opportunity to win the conference championship and go to the Rose Bowl?

No. I gave this idea an honest few minutes of thoughts, but for that second reason alone, travel logistics aside, it’s a hard pass.

(Chase Stevens | AP) Utah offensive lineman Bamidele Olaseni lies in confetti on the field after Utah defeated Oregon 38-10 to win the Pac-12 Conference championship game in Las Vegas.

Q: “Do you prefer the muffin top only for breakfast, or the whole muffin?” - @Brandt_Anderson

A: I prefer the whole muffin, but that doesn’t mean I won’t go for the muffin top first.

I have two preferences with muffins. Either tear off the top and eat that first, followed by picking at the bottom, or, if I have more time and depending on the type of muffin, slice it in half, toast it up a little, add a little butter or jelly. That latter preference is all class.

In general, my big gripe with muffins is when the bottom falls apart, at which point you’re left with a mountain of crumbs in the bottom of the wrapper. You then have three choices: Dump the crumbs in your hand and shove them in your face (not conducive to public eating), pick at the crumbs (not conducive to public eating or eating while driving), or just cut your losses and throw the bottom away.

While we’re here, definitive muffin rankings: 1. Coffee cake/crumb topping; 2. Chocolate chip; 3. Blueberry; 4. Corn; 5. Banana nut; 6. Lemon poppy seed.

Q: “What’s your opinion of the new 14-team version of the NFL playoffs? It seems like it was great for the last few weeks of the regular season, but not so good for the quality of the wild-card games” - @OuterDarknezz

A: I’m answering this, not as a media member, but as a fan of the NFL. I love it, and I wish the league had gotten this greedy years ago.

As you said, the last few weeks of the regular season were made better by the expanded playoff field because you had more teams contending for the extra spot, all the way down to Week 18 when the Raiders and Chargers played a very good win-and-in game, which ended in a field goal as time expired.

As for the quality of the wild-card round, sure, it mostly left something to be desired, save for Cowboys-Niners and Bengals-Raiders, which I thought was interesting most of the way. More to the point, we got more football, including a Monday Night Football playoff game, which was awesome.

I think whatever shortcomings a watered-down wild-card round had was made up for by four awesome Divisional-round games over the weekend. Hopefully, we get two excellent conference championship games, at which point the watered-down wild-card round will be a distant memory.

Q: “When was the last time you played HORSE and what was the result?” - @RunninHoops

A: March 21, 2020.

Beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we needed to get outside. Warm day, sun shining, Fairmont Park down here in Sugar House, which has a little mini one-basket court right in the middle. I definitely defeated my wife that afternoon in HORSE, but as for the play-by-play, I couldn’t tell you.

Why do I even remember any details of that all? Because I can clearly recall my phone would not stop buzzing that afternoon, before we went to the park, and definitely while we were there. The reasoning was that former Utah center Matt Van Komen hit the NCAA Transfer Portal. All that phone buzzing was sources, Twitter users, and eventually Larry Krystkowiak confirming my reporting.

I can’t tell you what I had for breakfast this morning, but if you need details of a game of HORSE from two years ago, combined with the details of a seldom-used 7-foot-4 center transferring, well, I’m your man.