PK: Utah Football Is Perfect Example Of Pac-12 Evolution

Nov 4, 2023, 4:16 PM

Utah Utes Arizona State Sun Sun Devils Football Kyle Whittingham...

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - NOVEMBER 4: Kyle Whittingham head coach of the Utah Utes talks to the team during warmups before their game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Rice Eccles Stadium on November 4, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah football program was in no position to consistently compete upon entering the Pac-12. As good as Utah’s roster was for years in the Mountain West Conference, the deficit in talent on a weekly basis in the Pac-12 was easily apparent.

Think back 13 years ago, the difference between the two teams was startling. Fast forward to the present, the gap is still gaping, but the roles are significantly reversed.

The difference was clear to any discernible eye. The Pac-12 had an abundance of better athletes all over the field.

Arizona State was a prime example, a team that was typically bigger and stronger than the Utes. Pretty much nothing more than a middling Pac-10 program for two-plus decades, minus the occasional surprise season, the Sun Devils owned the Utes in the early days of the Pac-12.

ASU won the first four games between the two teams, even as the cycle of replacing fired coaches about twice a decade continued. The Sun Devils also took six out of the initial eight games.

But that was then. And this is now.

In a dramatic swing, beginning in 2019, the nationally relevant Utes have treated the desert-dwellers like a high school program.  The latest game was no different, as Utah cruised to a 55-3 win during a gorgeous fall Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Why the change? Start at the top.

Since then-athletic director Chris Hill opened the bank to promote defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham to head coach in 2004, ASU has stumbled through a battery of coaches. The parade of mediocrity included Dirk Koetter and continued down the line with Dennis Erickson, Todd Graham and Herm Edwards.

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Meanwhile, Whittingham chugs along producing winning seasons like clockwork. Dealing with numerous injuries, as do most teams do (ASU was down to fourth-string quarterback Jacob Conover), Utah (7-2, 4-2) still can reach double figures in wins for the fourth consecutive season (excluding the five-game schedule in 2020).

Down in Tempe, the search for the difference maker lingers on. And on.

Each coach was booted after no more than six seasons, in some cases getting a hefty paycheck to go away quietly. Edwards was the worst, overseeing a program that is still under NCAA investigation for serious recruiting violations during COVID lockdowns.

A former client of athletic director Ray Anderson, who formerly was an NFL agent, Edwards had last coached in the NFL in 2008 and last coached in college in 1989. Yet Anderson when thought the then-63-year-old was the man for the job.

All he did was drive the program in the ground and jobbed the university of gobs of money. The Sun Devils are on pace for their worst two-year run in 80 years.

The latest great hope is Kenny Dillingham, a 33-year-old boy wonder with a strong reputation of developing quarterbacks. Bo Nix, who thrived last season when Dillingham was offensive coordinator at Oregon, is the latest example.

At least the new coach has more in mind than banking a nice paycheck for a few years before moving on to the next gig. A Phoenix native, Dillingham graduated from ASU and has deep roots and connections in the Valley of the Sun.

Facing an arduous building task, Dillingham has an excellent blueprint to follow. Utah is the place for him to model.

“In terms of Utah,” he said, “this is the culture that we want; that I envision here. They’re the program that I envision, hopefully having here a coach who’s been there for 19 years – who’s built it up, who’s established physicality in the program (and) toughness.”

Who knows, when the kid finally gets there maybe, at the rate Whittingham is going, maybe he’ll still be around to see it.

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PK: Utah Football Is Perfect Example Of Pac-12 Evolution