SALT LAKE CITY – The University of Utah Utes has strong programs in its athletics department that continue to improve each season and are the pride of the state.
The benefits of being in the Pac-12 for more than a decade are beginning to see just how competitive the Utah Utes’ athleticism can go.
In honor of Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, here’s the Utah State Athletics.
For the most part recently, Utah’s football depth has been strong. With the “next man” mentality being a big part of success, that wasn’t the case in the Rose Bowl when they had to use a running back at cornerback. The Utes have deep position groups including linebacker, offensive line, defensive line, quarterback, running back, tight end and more, the defensive secondary could use more depth.
Utah has signed a few defensive backs in the 2022 class, but learning the system will take some time as they catch up to the speed of the game.
It’s been a great run for Utah football on the recruiting track. It really accelerated in the 2020 class with signers such as Clark Phillips, Van Fillinger, Nate Ritchie, Ty Jordan, Sione Fotu. It was Utah’s highest-rated recruiting class at the time with an average rating of .8652, which was good for 30th in the nation and fifth in the Pac-12.
That average rose to .8727 with the 2021 class featuring players like Ethan Calvert, Mason Tufaga, Ricky Parks, Isaac Vaha, Trey Reynolds, Cole Bishop and Jonah Elliss. Utah was ranked No. 34 in the nation and sixth in the conference.
The 2022 class was even better with an average of .8744, good for 38th in the nation and fourth in the Pac-12. They signed talented players including Jaylon Glover, Lander Barton, Justin Medlock, Carson Tabaracci, Nate Johnson, Kaeo Akana and Tao Johnson.
The transfer portal has also been good for Utah with additions of Tavion Thomas, TJ Pledger, Chris Curry, Mohamoud Diabate, among others.
If the Utes continue to win at a high level on the grid, the recruiting rankings will continue to rise.
3. Championship Culture
Under Kyle Whittingham, Utah football has always been a culture of hard work, physicality and courage. Victories would come with that culture, but it never brought a championship to the program at the Power of Five level until 2021, when you add elite leadership and trust in each other. It was what separated Utah’s great football teams from the elite.
With most of their top contributors from last season returning in 2022, Utah is set for another magical season. Although Devin Lloyd is leaving, the Utes are set up with talented transfers and recruits to take the program to the next level.
Utah Football is in the best position they have ever been in.
1. Bumps in the road
With a victory over Colorado in their regular season finale on Saturday, Utah men’s basketball is one win away from matching the 2020-21 win total in a COVID-shortened season. To say it’s been a tough season for the Runnin’ Utes would be fair. But did anyone expect Craig Smith to come along and take the Utes to the NCAA Tournament in his first season on the job at a power five level? If so, those are unfair expectations, especially given what Smith had back from last year’s team.
Branden Carlson, Riley Battin and Lahat Thioune were notable comebacks last season. This left most of the production in the transfer portal. It’s hard to back a team that’s been on a 10-game losing streak and only won four conference games so far, but the reason Smith is the head coach instead of Larry Krystkowiak is that the program needed a change because of the trajectory.
Road bumps were expected in Smith’s first season at the helm.
2. Patience is key
For a very long time, the University of Utah has always been a basketball school. The Huntsman Center was crowded and noisy, creating one of the toughest environments in college basketball. There was a glimpse of that comeback during a three-year stint under Larry Krystkowiak, but for the most part it hasn’t been since Andrew Bogut has been here.
Craig Smith was Utah State’s head coach when The Spectrum wasn’t full and loud. In less than a season, he brought back the magic of The Spectrum. It’s difficult to support a program at the power of five and have to pick up most of your players from the transfer portal. That will take time. Patience with the Utah basketball program will be key.
3. Give the coaching staff a chance
Social media can be toxic, but it can also be informative. It’s what members of the media use to do their jobs at a high level. This is also where toxic messages are posted when fans are unhappy with their teams. There were fans who didn’t think Craig Smith was good for the Utah job. I would strongly disagree with that. Smith has a great coaching staff by his side and strives to bring talented players into the program, while developing the guys who are already on the team. Give Smith a few seasons to work his magic.
Utah basketball presents hope for a bright future in a new era
Meanwhile, Utah women’s basketball is set to make its first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 2010-11 season. It’s been a long time coming, but Lynne Roberts has done a terrific job with the rebuild. The crazy thing is, they’ll likely do the big dance with freshmen leading the program, including Gianna Kneepkens and Jenna Johnson.
They’re a young roster that can be scary in the Pac-12 over the next two to three seasons.
Red Rocks and Olympic Sports
Since I covered Utah Athletics, the Red Rocks have always been a constant contender and the 2022 season is no different. After finishing third in the nation last season, the Red Rocks are looking to reclaim the NCAA championship once again. Despite a few hiccups on the road this season, Utah has a solid team that is certainly capable of making a run.
While gymnastics is at elite status, Utah has other burgeoning Olympic sports. In the first season under Gary Henderson, Utah baseball went 4-1-1 to start the campaign. Softball plays with some of the best in the country and gives it their all. They lost to No. 5 Oklahoma in a draw, while suffering a 2-1 loss to No. 1 Oklahoma last week. Utah Softball is currently 11-5 and will be looking to storm the Pac-12.
Lacrosse is 2-1 after winning its last two games, including a victory against a top-25 opponent. The Utah ski team is still in contention for the national title and has the same expectations this season with several athletes on its roster competing in the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com, co-host of the Faith, Family and Football podcast with Clark Phillips III and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASports.