The Pac-12 title. The one goal every team in the conference sets for themselves each and every season. With the likes of national championship contenders Oregon and Stanford, and the team many picked to win the national championship last year in USC unable to call themselves Pac-12 champions, it's safe to say that winning the Pac-12 championship is quite the task.
During their years in the Mountain West Conference (1999-2011), the Utes were able to call themselves conference champions four times: 1999 (co-conference champions), 2003, 2004, and 2008. In other words, they lifted the trophy about 1/3 of the time. As their success spoke for itself and earned an invitation to join the prestigious Pac-12 conference, many didn't realize how big of a jump in competition it was going to be going from the MWC to the Pac-12. A common reasoning to this opinion was due to the success the Utes had against BCS schools while they were members of the MWC. Others figured that if the Utes could travel to SEC country and embarrass the most dominate program in college football in Alabama and win the Sugar Bowl, why wouldn't they be able to do the same to all of the schools in the former Pac-10 conference? Well this is the exact reasoning as to why the first two seasons as a member of the Pac-12 conference were such a disappointment to many Utah fans.
To make the jump from the MWC to the Pac-12 is a lot more difficult than we thought. With all due respect to the MWC, the Pac-12 is in a complete different ballpark. The facilities are bigger, the education is greater, the talent level is incomparable, and the list goes on. With the football gods granting all of Ute Nation's wishes of receiving the invitation to join the Pac-10 and form the now Pac-12 conference, the Utah faithful is now realizing how big of a step the change in conferences really is.
Examining the current situation that the program is in as a whole, I came up with a few key things that must happen if the Utes want to win the Pac-12 conference.
1. Land all of the top talent in the state of Utah.
With the talent level in the state of Utah becoming more and more noticed throughout the country, Utah will need to fight off these other programs from coming into their backyard and stealing their athletes. The Utes cannot let recruits such as Cooper Bateman, Bryan Mone, Dalton Schultz, Jackson Barton, etc. sign with any school but Utah. As the talent level continues to grow in the state, the Utes must gain a tighter and tighter grasp on these kids and not let them slip away.
2. Develop the best offensive and defensive lines in the Pac-12.
The continued influx of the Polynesian culture gives Utah a huge advantage in regards to developing dominant offensive/defensive lines. A football team is built from the inside out, starting with the "big uglies" up front. Combining the Utes ability to develop linemen into NFL players, with the higher level of talent being brought in out of high school, Utah could have some scary good offensive and defensive lines in the near future.
3. Hire/develop a recruiting guru or ‘ace'.
The success of a program begins with the all-important aspect of recruiting. As winning speaks for itself, it can only do so much, and a lot more than just winning is needed to land the "blue chip" recruits and top talent necessary to win a Pac-12 championship. That is where a recruiting guru, or an "ace" comes into play. For Utah, enter Brian Johnson. Johnson has a very high ceiling as a recruiter, and needs to become that ace recruiter for the Utes. At the tender age of just 24, while the majority of us are still pondering about what the heck to do with our lives, Johnson was named the offensive coordinator for the University of Utah. If you were one of those people who were shaking their head when the Utes' offense was put into the hands of a 24 year old, you may very well soon understand why Whittingham made the decision to make that hire. To go along with his high football IQ, Johnson is one of the nicest guys you will meet and has the ability to relate with/build relationships with recruits in a way that few coaches in the country have the ability to do. Being a young, successful, African-American coach who just a short time ago was the quarterback who led the Utes to the Sugar Bowl where they went on to embarrass Alabama, is quite the change from every other coach that recruits will hear from during the recruitment process. Without going on for an hour about explaining in detail why Johnson can become an absolute ace recruiter for the Utes, I will leave you with this: Brian Johnson NEEDS to become that recruiting force the Utes need in order to win a Pac-12 championship.
4. Make Rice-Eccles Stadium a force to be reckoned with.
Home games are one of the biggest things a program can use to their advantage. While some programs take full advantage of playing at home, others don't take full advantage. On game day, Rice-Eccles has a great atmosphere and is definitely used to the Ute' advantage. The MUSS, and the strikingly underappreciated north end zone crowd do an excellent job at creating havoc for the opposing teams. With that being said, Rice-Eccles needs to become even louder and more of a hostile environment for opponents. As teams are definitely aware that it's tough to play at RES, Rice-Eccles must gain the reputation and intimidation factor that schools begin to not just dislike, but actually hate coming to SLC and playing the Utes at home.
5. Take care of business on the road.
Last but not least, win on the road. The Utes haven't had much luck on the road since joining the Pac-12, compiling a record of 3-6 in those two seasons. Although winning one of every three conference games played on the road isn't terrible, they are yet to beat a conference foe at their place. In order to win the conference title, Utah will need to be able to go on the road and take care of business. With one loss on the road, the Utes would likely still have a shot at winning the conference. With two losses on the road, they can kiss that trophy goodbye. Take a quick look at how Oregon and Stanford have fared on the road in the first two years of the Pac-12. Oregon has yet to lose a Pac-12 road game. Stanford, the team who won it last season and played in a BCS game the year before, went 4-0 and 4-1 on the road. This illustrates how important it is to win on the road. One slip up and the goal of winning the conference may be over.
What The Utes Must Do To Win The Pac-12
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