As the college football landscape was undergoing a leviathan shift last Friday, including his university jumping ship to a new conference, Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham said he was blissfully unaware of the chaos around him.
“I’m immersed in what we’re doing here and only worried about things we can control — and I have no control over that,” he explained after Tuesday’s practice. “So I was just taking care of our business here.”
He eventually got a call from university President Taylor Randall and Athletic Director Mark Harlan, letting him know that this would be the Utes’ final season in the Pac-12, and that starting in 2024, they’ll be a member of the Big 12.
Surely he had some reaction to that.
“We’re all focused on this season, with this schedule, namely the Florida Gators,” Whittingham said. “We’ve got them in … what, 17 more practices to go. We’re going to need every bit of that.”
It was actually quite predictable, though, given Whittingham’s tendency to stay in his lane. Conference realignment is out of his hands, and being prepared for when the Gators visit Rice-Eccles Stadium on Aug. 31 is something he can have an impact on.
He did ultimately concede, “We’re excited we’ve got a landing place for the future,” but said his message to the team is, “We’re all about the Pac-12 this year and this season, and that’s it.”
The message has gotten through, loud and clear.
“That’s next year’s worry. Right now it’s just Pac-12 play,” said sophomore linebacker Lander Barton.
“Coach Whitt’s made it really clear to us — obviously that’s a lot of big news, but he just wants us to focus on Game 1 against the Gators,” added Smith Snowden. “I feel like that’s where the whole team’s mindset is at right now.”
“The coaches have driven into us a lot that that’s in the future, that we still have the present to deal with right now, we still have the Pac-12 intact,” concluded cornerback Miles Battle. “So as of right now, we’ve got to focus on Florida and the 11 games we have after that.”
Still, while everyone is doing their best to compartmentalize, there’s naturally some discussion about what’s next.
Harlan, asked Monday how student-athletes at the U. have reacted to the news, noted that a certain program was perhaps not quite as buttoned-down as its members are now claiming to be.
“I was around the football program on Saturday — it’s fair to say some of the young men from Texas were jumping around a little bit,” he said.
Battle is a Houston native, but as a senior, the Big 12 jump will occur a year too late.
“That would have been cool to play at home! I think there’s four schools in the Big 12 from Texas [Baylor, Houston, TCU, and Texas Tech], but you know, hey, it is what it is.”
Snowden, a true freshman, will get a chance to experience both the Pac-12 and Big 12 in his Utah tenure. And while he recognizes the move is a big deal, he said that the league that the program is affiliated with was never a consideration when deciding where to play.
“The conference wasn’t ever a thing I even looked at when I committed here,” he said. “Just the coaching staff alone was just the big reason that I came here, and just the success they’ve been having over these last couple of years. Just been kind of a no-brainer to come here.”
It will matter to some recruits in the future.
And that’s when Whittingham and his players will really absorb it.
“They’re focused, it’s not a distraction,” Whittingham said. “It’s something that is positive in the big picture, obviously. But again, all our attention is on what’s going on right now.”