The optimism, if not the expectations, around the University of Utah football program is palpable as the start of fall camp looms.
And we all know why.
Another Pac-12 South title, the first Pac-12 championship game win in program history, a trip to the Rose Bowl, and a slew of key pieces returning from that run have fans and media members, both local and national, believing that a run to the College Football Playoff this fall is something more than a pipedream.
That’s where this program is at the moment, in the way-too-early, on-paper conversation as a CFP qualifier, and that’s exactly where we’re going to start this week’s mailbag.
Do you have a question for Utes beat reporter Josh Newman? Send it to him via a tweet, direct message him on Twitter, email him at email@example.com, or leave it in the comments section at the end of this article and he will answer them in his weekly mailbag.
Q: “Because of the Rose Bowl appearance, do you think Utah is going to be respected enough that if they lose one or two games, they can make the College Football Playoff? Kind of like these big teams that don’t win the conference but still go.” - Emailer Ashton
A: Utah getting to the Rose Bowl last season will have no bearing on how the College Football Playoff selection committee chooses to view it. None. Zero. Zilch. Last season was last season, this season will be this season, one does not matter in terms of the other.
As far as respect in the case of a loss or two, if last season has nothing to do with anything this season, then I won’t sit here and say respect off the Rose Bowl run has anything to do with it either. I think we’re all programmed to believe that the Pac-12 doesn’t get a ton of respect nationally, but frankly, why should it? Only two Pac-12 teams have gotten to the CFP, and the last one to do it, 2016 Washington, got completely outclassed by Alabama in a semifinal.
There have been four teams since the inception of the CFP — 2016 Ohio State, 2017 Alabama, 2018 Notre Dame and 2020 Notre Dame — that did not win their respective conferences, but still got to the Playoff. Notre Dame was obviously an independent in 2018, but during the COVID-impacted 2020 season, the Fighting Irish played a full ACC schedule, lost to Clemson in the ACC championship game when they were ranked No. 2, then made the CFP anyway as the 4-seed, where it lost to Alabama in a semifinal.
All four of those teams to not win a conference championship had CFP-worthy resumes anyway. Utah is not going to the CFP if it doesn’t win the Pac-12, nor is it going to the CFP with two losses, regardless of who the losses are against.
A 13-0, Pac-12-champion Utah team is absolutely going to the CFP. A 12-1, Pac-12 champion Utah team might still get there, but the situation becomes a lot murkier.
My advice is to beat Florida on Sept. 3. We’ll start there.
Q: “Do you foresee Utah losing a lot of their top players after this season to big money bag schools? Why would Glover, Barton or others not take a big pay day and improve their draft positioning at a bigger school? IMO, tough times ahead for Utah football after this season. Would not be surprised if Kyle split after this season...” - Emailer Trail Goat
A: I think you’re overthinking this a bit, but your overarching point is perfectly valid.
We’ve seen in recent months how the name, image and likeness era has turned into a bit of the Wild West thanks to outside NIL collectives. And I don’t think anyone knows exactly what is going to happen with NIL at the NCAA or even the congressional level. What I do know is, boosters and outside interests have been impactful on the world of college sports for generations, so why should anyone believe that won’t continue in some shape or form here, even if the NCAA does actually find some teeth and does something about what is currently going on?
It is interesting that you bring up Jaylon Glover and Lander Barton to support this question, because of all the talent on Utah’s roster, of all the young guys at Whittingham’s disposal, those are the two guys I have a hard time believing would go anywhere.
I learned a long time ago to never say never, but Glover was a hype man for his recruiting class for months after he committed, then boldly, and without room for debate, stuck to his commitment after his chief recruiter, former Utes running backs coach Kiel McDonald left for USC in January. Glover wants to be at Utah. If nothing else is clear, that certainly is.
The Barton family is Utah athletics royalty. Lander’s older brothers, Cody and Jackson, both starred for Whittingham and now play in the NFL. Lander’s older sister, Dani, was a four-time All-Pac-12 volleyball player, leaving with career records for kills (2,268), sets played (561), matches played (150), and attempts (5,655).
Lander’s recruitment wasn’t the family’s first rodeo. Oregon, Texas, and Michigan. That’s who he chose Utah over. Unless something dire happens, it’s tough to see him transferring, even with the allure of big money potentially out there somewhere else.
As for Whittingham, I had a conversation with someone in the Pac-12 football world recently who wondered aloud if NIL, and the headaches that come with it, might expedite Whittingham’s retirement decision.
It at least makes sense to label the NIL stuff as a potential factor.
Q: “How much weekly sauna/steam room time should I be incorporating into my routine to prepare for the opener at The Swamp?” - @mattaiken92
A: I’ve talked myself into the weather on Sept. 3 not being too bad. Maybe, potentially, I hope.
The average temperature in Gainesville on that date is 79 degrees with a high of 87. The average humidity on that date is right around 80%. Then, consider that this is a 7:30 p.m. kickoff, with the sun ready to set at 7:49 p.m. The night kickoff means you’re missing the day’s heat, but you’re going to be left with the humidity. Not great. If you tell me you plan to tailgate earlier in the day in the heat, that’s on you.
I’m fine, you’re fine, we’re all going to be fine, but maybe pack an extra shirt or two that day.
By the way, a good steam room, especially after a workout, is terrific. It’ll help you relax, it’ll loosen you up, it’ll burn more calories. I haven’t done a steam room in forever, mostly due to the pandemic, but they’re awesome.
Q: “After the new indoor facility is complete, what will be the next facility upgrade for the football program?” - @ty_fly22
A: Utah athletic director Mark Harlan has said in the past that the athletic department is always looking at ways to upgrade various facilities, but to be honest, once this football facility is complete in 2024, I don’t know that there’s another football upgrade that sticks out as necessary.
Maybe more work on Rice-Eccles Stadium, but where? They just finished completion on the south end zone project, so wholesale changes aren’t really necessary unless there is some area of the stadium in need that I’m just not aware of.
The Eccles Football Center was completed less than a decade ago, but are there upgrades to be made there?
What I do know is a new indoor football facility is a pretty significant must in what is always a facilities arms race among programs across the region, if not the country.
Q: “Who is your favorite Sopranos character? Who killed Tony?” - @Eric18utah
A: Tony isn’t dead, he’s doing life at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton for murder and racketeering. Seriously, all these years later, that series finale was wildly unsatisfying and was left way too open for interpretation.
Quick story: I watched the series finale with my parents and my brother. As the episode nears its end, we’re not quite sure where things are going as the Sopranos sit at Holsten’s. Meadow finally parks her car after 37 tries, runs across the street, door opens, Tony looks up, screen fades to black.
Dead silence on my parents’ couch. After a few seconds, finally, my mother cuts the tension by deadpanning to my father, “Did you not pay the @#$%& cable bill?”
My favorite character is Peter Paul “Paulie Walnuts” Gualtieri. The wings in his hair, the clothes, the Cadillac, all the hand gestures, the voice, the comedic relief, everything about Paulie was just perfection.
I will take this opportunity to offer my feeling that “Pine Barrens” is a great episode, but overrated, not worth the adulation it has received through the years.
Q: “Bucket list concert you’d like to attend before the act hangs ‘em up?” - @RunninHoops
A: I found rap music pretty early, like 11 or 12 years old. We’re talking about the early 1990s, before it was widely accepted and considered mainstream.
That said, the only time I’ve really veered far from that genre is Billy Joel. Love me some Billy Joel, but have never seen him live despite him playing Madison Square Garden as many times as he has in recent years. Those shows were a little bit out of our price range, but finally, in 2019, my wife and I were going to bite the bullet and enjoy ourselves, but whoops, I got a job in Utah, so that took priority at the time. I still regret not going for it.
Joel is 73, so who knows how long he has left to perform. He is still playing the Garden, and as far as I can tell, has come as far west as Denver in recent years. If he comes to Denver again, and my schedule works, I think we’re going to have to do that before it’s too late.
Q: “Pick one: Winter every day in SLC or summer every day in SLC.” - @cam_utah
A: I hate being cold, and when I say cold, I mean “it’s 12 degrees outside” cold, not “the air conditioner in this hotel is set at 58 degrees” cold. That second one rules.
Seriously, though, I’ve lived in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Utah, and I HATE winter and everything that goes along with it. The snow, the cold, the need to bundle up, my ears tearing, my lips chapping, snow boots, all of it. The only thing I will say is that, in my limited experience, a winter here is more manageable than a winter in the northeast.
Give me summer all day and twice on Sundays, mostly because there is no humidity. The heat is quite brutal in the dead of July and August here, but you can hack it without the humidity. I’m getting a workout done in the morning, before it gets too hot, and the rest of the day is no big deal, either working or running errands. No big deal.
What do people in Arizona do in July when it’s 273 degrees outside? You have to have a pool, right? I’m moving to San Diego, where it’s 73 degrees all year and I can wear Rainbows in January.
Who’s with me?
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