The TribUte newsletter: The difference a year makes for Tavion Thomas

Utah will finish the nonconference portion of its schedule Saturday night vs. San Diego State

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Southern Utah Thunderbirds safety Rodrick Ward (3) closes in on Utah Utes running back Tavion Thomas (9), in football action between the Utah Utes and the Southern Utah Thunderbirds, at Rice-Eccles Stadium, on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022.

Tavion Thomas is having some ball-security issues.

When this happened early last season, Kyle Whittingham sat Thomas, but was consistent in his public comments in the weeks that followed, saying he believed in the running back and believed that Thomas would still be a major factor.

This year is different.

Never mind that Chris Curry had his best game as a Ute. Or that Micah Bernard is there. Or that freshman Jaylon Glover might one day be the guy for the Utes.

This time around, Whittingham was clear on Monday that Thomas would not be sitting down. Rather, this is something that he needs to work through while still contributing. No, Whittingham is not going to sit the guy averaging 4.8 yards per carry with three touchdowns through two games.

We’ll see how Thomas bounces back vs. San Diego State.

Speaking of which ...

• This has been one of those weeks around the University of Utah that felt very benign.

The Utes are coming off a 66-point trucking of Southern Utah, an FCS program, last weekend, and, depending on which sportsbook you frequent, are three-scores favorites late Saturday night against San Diego State (8 p.m. ESPN2).

• The big Utah football topic of conversation this week has been how last season’s game at San Diego State did two things. It essentially marked Cam Rising’s arrival, and it completely changed the tenor of a season that felt like it was going nowhere. I threaded some thoughts together on that SDSU game on Twitter earlier this week. That might have been the craziest game in a season full of craziness.

• The media doesn’t get to watch practice, and Whittingham usually doesn’t address injuries unless they are season-ending, so the status of injured linebacker Mohamoud Diabate is unclear. The only thing we know is that whatever the injury is, for which Diabate exited the SUU game during the second quarter and did not return, it is not a season-ender.

If Diabate can’t go against San Diego State, or is limited, it will be the first test of depth at a position that is widely viewed as the deepest within Utah’s defense. Andrew Mata’afa feels like the logical choice to step in if Diabate is unavailable. The fifth-year junior has 27 career games on his resume, mostly on special teams and in a reserve linebacker role.

The Pac-12 released its men’s basketball schedule on Thursday, which finalized Utah’s full slate. Circle Nov. 7 (opener, Rod Strickland’s head coaching debut for Long Island University), Dec. 1 (Arizona), Dec. 17 (at BYU), Dec. 21 (projected preseason top-20 TCU at Vivint Arena), Jan. 7 (Oregon), and Feb. 23 (UCLA). The Bruins are likely the pick to win the Pac-12 this winter, while figuring to start ranked somewhere between 10-15.

• The Pac-12 seeking a new media rights agreement has been pushed to the back burner a bit with the season starting, but a podcast clip on Wednesday from Andrew Marchand of the New York Post got everyone talking again. In it, the Post’s sports media columnist states that the Pac-12 and ESPN are “hundreds of millions apart on a new deal.”

Frankly, that is pretty vague, especially given the media value of the conference is thought to be only $300 million, but it lends credence to the notion that an agreement may not be coming anytime soon.

As a reminder, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff would prefer his conference’s primary rights remain on regular linear television, while being very open to a streaming partner (Apple, Hulu, Amazon, etc.) for some secondary rights. Does that equation change if the Pac-12 and ESPN can’t figure it out, but a streaming service is willing to pony up a big number?

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.