With five years down and still many to go
Utah’s already putting on a show
Filling faithful fans with nothing but pride
So just hold on tight and enjoy the ride
When President Bill Clinton gave his 1998 State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, he exclaimed, “Ladies and gentlemen, the state of our union is strong!” A similar statement could be made about my beloved Utes — Ladies and gentlemen, the state of the University of Utah is strong!
Five years ago, the Utes joined the Pac-12. Not surprisingly, some growing pains accompanied Utah’s early years as the newest member of a Power-5 Conference. However, the Utes have not only endured these past five years, but they are now thriving. Any and all doubts about whether Utah could compete against the big boys has been erased, and now the Utes are considered to be one of the big boys.
Utah’s first year in the Pac-12 almost had a storybook ending. If the Utes could have just beaten Colorado at home in the regular season finale, then Utah would have earned a berth in the inaugural Pac-12 Football Championship game. But alas, the Utes couldn’t quite complete the task at hand, losing to Colorado 17-14 to finish the season 8-5.
Utah’s second and third years in the Pac-12 went a little more as expected, with identical 5-7 records. In year two, the Utes only won three conference games, and the next year that number dropped to two.
The 2015 season was a watershed moment for Utah football, with the Utes posting a 9-4 record and destroying Colorado State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
This year the Utes improved to 10-3, seriously contended for the Pac-12 title, and in an encore performance at the Las Vegas Bowl, they buried BYU.
If Utah can upgrade the play at quarterback (and all indications in spring ball thus far are that is most likely to happen), then the Utes will be in the thick of the Pac-12 race once again next year.
Utah’s invitation to the Pac-12 coincided with a coaching change that left the proverbial cupboard completely bare for incoming coach Larry Krystkowiak. Consequently, the Runnin’ Utes suffered through one of their worst seasons in history and a 6-25 record. They actually lost at home in the exhibition game to Adams State, and only won three conference games.
Unlike football, the basketball program has only improved each and every season (but, admittedly, the basketball program started with a much lower bar than the football team). In the second year, Utah improved to 15-18 and made it to the semifinals in the Pac-12 Tournament. The next year, the Runnin’ Utes went 21-12 and made it to the NIT.
In the 2015-16 season, Utah took the program to the next level, finishing the season 26-9, with an appearance in the Sweet 16, losing a close game to eventual national champion Duke.
This year, the Runnin’ Utes improved their record to 27-9, and made it to the second round of the Big Dance. While players and fans will always wonder what might have been if Utah had played its best basketball against Gonzaga, it was still a season to be envied by the vast majority of other NCAA teams.
And the past two years are only the beginning. Hear me now and believe me later: Krystowiak is building a dynasty at Utah that will compete for conference and national titles for years to come.
Rounding out the troika of top sports on The Hill, the Red Rocks have not missed a step since joining the Pac-12.
In Utah’s first year in the Pac-12, the Red Rocks finished second in the Pac-12 tournament, and finished fifth at nationals. The second year Utah finished third in the Pac-12 tournament, and ninth at nationals. It is a testament to the long history of excellence of this storied program that a ninth-place finish at nationals represents a so-called down year for the program.
The Red Rocks then claimed back-to-back Pac-12 titles, finishing seventh and then second at nationals. In fact, in 2015, Utah was only 0.05 points behind national champ Florida.
This year, the Red Rocks were runners-up to UCLA at the Pac-12 tournament, but beat UCLA in the regionals to advance to the national championships for the 41st straight year. The gymnastics national tournament will take place this weekend in Fort Worth, Tex.
In the five years that Utah has been in the Pac-12, the Red Rocks are the only squad to place in the top three of each and every Pac-12 gymnastics tournament.
In addition to the big three discussed above, the Utes have seen success across a variety of sports in recent years. Last year, Utah had seven nationally-ranked teams, and this year the Utes have had five nationally-ranked teams (with skiing and women’s cross country joining the big three).
Speaking of ranked teams, and coming full circle to football and basketball, last year Utah was one of only six universities to have nationally-ranked teams in both football and basketball at the end of the season. The Utes were part of that same prestigious group this year along with six other universities.
The Capital One Cup is awarded annually to each of the best men’s and women’s Division 1 college athletics programs in the country, with points awarded for all sports (and not just the high profile money makers). Currently, Utah currently checks in at No. 31 in the Women’s Cup Standings, and at No. 40 in the Men’s Cup Standings. No other school in Utah even appears on either the men’s or women’s lists.
Here’s to a great start in the Pac-12, with many more successes yet to come!
Bleeding Red is a sports column written by Dwayne Vance. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.