Rice Eccles Stadium is quiet and still
The games are now played further up on The Hill
Instead of turf the Utes now play on hardwood
The Utes are good, but the question is—how good?
COMMENTARY — Utah’s football season is officially over. However, before we move on to basketball (and gymnastics — I absolutely love the Red Rocks!), a few parting comments on football are in order.
Bowl match-ups were announced yesterday and nine of the 12 teams in the Pac-12 teams were invited to play in bowl games. In other words, Utah was one of only three Pac-12 teams on the outside looking in.
Surprisingly, most universities actually end up losing money instead of making money on bowl appearances. Nevertheless, a bowl game can be a great reward for players and fans, and it provides greater visibility for the program, which may help with recruiting. The biggest benefit of a bowl appearance that the Utes will miss out on are the extra practices and ability to continue to develop underclassmen for next year. All of that is water under the bridge at this point.
Additionally, five Pac-12 teams are ranked in the BCS Top 25, with Stanford at No. 5 and Oregon at No. 10. There can be no dispute that the Pac-12 has turned into a powerhouse conference when it comes to football.
Speaking of the BCS Top 25, Fresno State, the Mountain West champ, is currently ranked No. 20 (and BYU isn’t even in the discussion). While scheduling Michigan may have been the impetus for Utah to drop BYU from the football schedule for 2014 and 2015, the Bulldogs are actually the team that replaced the Cougars on the Utes’ schedule. At the time, Utah Athletic Director Dr. Chris Hill essentially explained that keeping BYU on the schedule resulted in an overly difficult schedule for Utah. So instead of BYU, we now have a home and home series with Fresno State. Well played Dr. Hill, well played.
Not only is the Pac-12 a big-time football conference, it is a very good basketball conference as well. Arizona, Oregon and UCLA are all currently ranked, with Arizona checking in at No. 1 in the nation. Colorado is also knocking on the door having recently beaten then-No. 6-ranked Kansas.
I will be the first to admit that the Runnin’ Utes will be hard-pressed to compete for the Pac-12 title this year. However, Utah’s squad is vastly improved over prior years and will be competitive. Building on a surprisingly strong performance at the Pac-12 Tournament last spring, Coach Larry Krystkowiak has his team heading in the right direction.
The 7-1 Runnin’ Utes have shown some real promise early in the pre-season. Granted, they have played a lot of creampuffs (like Evergreen State and Grand Canyon). However, they played well against Ball State and Fresno State, and lost a close game to a good Boise State team due to a questionable flagrant foul call.
Utah will end up playing 13 of its first 14 games in the friendly confines of the Huntsman Center, with the sole road game being a hop, skip and a jump up north to Boise State. The Runnin’ Utes don’t have a true road trip until the second week of January, when they venture to the Pacific Northwest to play Washington and Washington State.
Next up on the schedule are home games against Idaho State Tuesday night and BYU on Saturday. While BYU has gotten the better of Utah on the hardwood in recent years, I think this year’s team is going to turn the corner with a W over the Cougars at home. Unlike their counterparts in football, defense is the Achilles’ heel of BYU’s basketball team and will be a difference maker in the match-up with Utah this weekend.
There are a lot of new faces on the team this year, which is actually a good thing as new blood was definitely necessary in order to improve the quality of play.
One of the most exciting newcomers is junior Delon Wright. Last year Wright was the Coast Conference Player of the Year at City College of San Francisco. Wright has already demonstrated that he has the skills to play at the next level. He currently leads the team in points scored (16.1 per game), field goal percentage (.743), field goals made (6.5 a game), assists (6.4 pg) and steals (3.4). Wright is also second on the team in rebounds (6.8 pg), blocked shots (1.1 pg), free throws made (2.6 pg) and free throw attempts (3.8 pg).
Wright is truly poetry in motion and a pure joy to watch. He is a very complete player who excels at every aspect of the game. I am simply amazed by his ability to drive to the basket. Many players will simply plow over the top of the defender in order to get to the free throw line on a shooting foul (and committing the occasional offensive foul in the process). However, Wright has a real knack for deftly sliding around defenders and avoiding contact for clear shots at the rim.
The Runnin’ Utes are going to give fans something to cheer about this year. It remains to be seen how good they will ultimately be, but the easy answer is they will be substantially better than in recent years.
Finally, the annual Red Rocks Preview is this Friday, December 13, and admission is free. Utah is a perennial powerhouse in women’s gymnastics. These ladies are elite athletes, and arguably are the best athletes on The Hill. It is comforting to know that I can count on the Red Rocks to consistently perform at a high level year in and year out while the football and basketball programs continue to go through growing pains since joining the Pac-12.
Dwayne Vance is a sports columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
Now available from STGnews.com
Email: [email protected]
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.