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Utah Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd
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Utah Football Is Trending Upwards In Pac-12 Era

Utah Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd (20) leads the Utes onto the field before the start of an NCAA football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (Colter Peterson, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The month of June marks the 10-year anniversary of conference realignment in college football which includes Utah leaving the Mountain West to join the Pac-12 Conference.

The Utes accepted the invitation to join the Pac-10 in June of 2010 before officially joining the Pac-12 on July 1.

The football program has seen some high points in the trajectory as well as some lows while transitioning from a the Mountain West to a power-five conference.

All in all, Utah football currently is going in the right direction. But how did they get there? KSL Sports and the Crimson Corner podcast dives into the past 10 years and beyond to analyze the move that changed Utah athletics forever.

It also marked the 10-year anniversary that BYU left the Mountain West to become an independent program. KSLSports.com BYU insider and Cougar Tracks podcast host Mitch Harper joined the Crimson Corner for a cross podcast to dissect the last 10 years for both Utah and BYU.

Busted BCS Twice

While in the Mountain West Conference, Utah was very successful including two seasons in a five year span where they went undefeated and busted the BCS. In 2004, Utah went a perfect 12-0 and became the first non-BCS school to win a BCS bowl game when they beat Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.

When Utah changed head coaches from Urban Meyer to Kyle Whittingham, the Utes had another undefeated run when they went 13-0 and busted the BCS once again with a big win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Those two seasons were a sign to the college football landscape that this program can compete at a high level with the big boys. Not sure if Utah would make it to the Pac-12 if they didn’t have those two magical seasons but we can say that those two historic years were part of the equation to where they are now.

Benefits Of Being In Power-Five Conference

What’s been obvious as to the benefits of being in a power-five conference for Utah is being able to recruit players that they would not normally be able to recruit if they were still in the Mountain West Conference. Prospects these days want the exposure on television while playing good teams every week. For the most part, Utah has checked all of those boxes. Especially with their rise in the conference, Utah signed their most talented recruiting class in 2020.

Part of that is due to  the state of the art facility that Utah opened in 2013. The 150,000-square foot, $32 million building has been the flashy toy for the Utes.

The ongoing renovations to Rice-Eccles Stadium will likely help improve Utah’s stock on the recruiting trail. It remains to be seen what the new-look RES will do for the program but it can only be a positive outcome.

Finally, the obvious benefit for Utah being in a power-five conference is being able to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff, which they nearly accomplished that had they beat Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game last season.

Where Is Utah Football Trending?

It’s clear that Utah football is trending in the right direction. But, how steep is the trend? It’s not where it needs to be. With two straight seasons of appearing in the Pac-12 Championship game, Utah hasn’t been able to finish the job and claim the conference crown.

After starting the Pac-12 era with an 8-5 record (4-5 conference), Utah slumped with two straight five-win seasons. Since 2014, the Utes have won at least 7 games every season and had a winning conference record in five of the last six seasons.

The recruiting trail has been good for Utah as well as they have nearly improved their ranking every season with the exception of the growing pain years.

The Utes’ football program is trending in the right direction but I sense that the fans, players and coaches expect more.

What Utah Needs To Accomplish In Next 10 Years

This is simple. Finish the job and win the Pac-12 Championship. The Utes had their best chance at winning the crown in 2019 with a very experienced and talented group. Now, that nine starters will need to be replaced on defense and three key positions with new faces on offense, Utah will have to work harder than ever to get back to the title game.

It doesn’t help the Utes to only have three spring football practices because of the pandemic. But, if one thing is pointed out that the Utah coaching staff does well is develop talent. That will be put to the test in 2020 without a spring training camp.

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASportsYou can download and listen to the podcast, here.

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