Wednesday, July 28, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.
Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham took his seat on the press conference podium Tuesday afternoon at Red Rock Resort during the Mountain West Conference media day, surveyed the room of reporters, paused to gather his thoughts and delivered his opening statement.
“It’s been a quiet, uneventful summer,” Whittingham jokingly said.
If you consider accepting an invitation to one of college football's elite leagues uneventful, then yes, it was a dull summer for the Salt Lake City school.
Utah is leaving the Mountain West for the Pac-10 Conference effective next fall, ditching the mid-major Mountain West for the riches, tradition and better competition of the Pac-10.
Whittingham says his team will do its best staying focused competing one last time against the likes of Colorado State, New Mexico and Wyoming.
However, don’t blame the short-timers for looking ahead to the future — like playing Southern California at the Coliseum in Los Angeles and competing for berth in the Rose Bowl.
Whittingham, who was easily the most sought-after person to be interviewed Tuesday, said all the right things when questioned about the move. His team looks forward to one more go-round in the Mountain West, they have great respect for the league, and they will focus on the Pac-10 after the season.
“We have challenges ahead of us this fall that require all of our attention,” Whittingham said.
I’m just not buying it.
On the inside, he is surely thinking about recruiting a more exciting brand of athlete and having games televised by a respected national network.
Whittingham isn’t the only one toeing the company line when talking about the split. Coaches from the Mountain West’s other schools wouldn’t directly say they are looking forward to taking one last crack at Utah, you know a swift-kick in the rear as a parting gift.
It would have been easy for BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall to openly criticize Utah. After all, the two schools are bitter rivals and it’s no secret that BYU wishes it was headed to the Pac-10 instead.
It would have made for great headlines if Mendenhall ripped Utah. Instead, he went the safe route as he was asked numerous time about the Cougars’ top rival.
“The future will be different than past history,” he said. “It’s not to say that the rivalry will go away, but it will change to some degree.”
While everyone is saying the right things about the divorce between the league and one of its best schools, the truth is losing Utah is a significant blow.
The league is desperately trying to upgrade its image with hopes of eventually earning a guaranteed spot in a lucrative BSC game. That cause, even with nationally respected Boise State set to join the conference next fall, seems hopeless.
With or without Utah, the league will never improve unless its bottom-tier teams — UNLV, that’s you — become respectable. It’s a process that involves a commitment and resources from the university.
The league’s “Big 3” teams of TCU, BYU and Utah (or Boise State) share several similarities — a long-tenured coach, above-average facilities and tremendous financial resources. The league’s bottom teams lack in two or more of those categories.
Utah has had the nation’s longest active win streak in bowl games at nine, including victories in the Fiesta Bowl (2004) and Sugar Bowl (2008). The Utes’ success is a big reason why they are moving to Pac-10 while the Mountain West’s other schools are left biting their tongue in envy.
The envy will likely carry into the fall.
Utah returns four of five offensive linemen starters and two of the league’s top running backs, including Cimarron-Memorial High graduate Eddie Wide of Las Vegas. They were picked No. 2 behind TCU in the league’s preseason media poll.
Hosting Pittsburgh to open the season and a road contest at Notre Dame highlights the Utes’ schedule. And, there’s that final league game against rival BYU.
In borrowing a word from Whittingham, it has all the makings of an “uneventful” farewell.