Michael Rueckert of Mountain West Connection has been kind enough to give his take on the ten questions I have been submitting to Utah and Colorado bloggers in an attempt to get a feel for the ‘new guys’ joining the Pac-10 (12) next season.
I certainly found Mr. Rueckerts comments interesting. And I may have to seek some extra info on a few subjects. Particularly that MUSS buss. Sounds like that could be interesting if Utah plays @ Arizona next season.
1. What do you think of the possibility of Utah being in the Pac-12 North with Oregon, Oregon St., Washington, Washington St., and Colorado?
MR- After being in a conference with the likes of San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico, Wyoming, etc. were absolutely thrilled to be in the Pac-12, regardless of the division. Like fans of most schools I'm guessing, Utah fans would prefer to be in a division with USC and UCLA for excitement and to help with the California recruiting. Whatever division we are placed in though, we're happy to be in it.
2. What conference record do you think Utah will finish with, assuming they join the Pac-12 next season?
MR- Utah is going to surprise a lot of people in its first season in the Pac-12. QB Jordan Wynn, who has been playing since he was a true freshman, will be a junior and Utah returns plenty of play makers on both sides of the ball. Six of 11 current offensive starters and defensive starters are set to return. The expectation of fans is that Utah will be better next season than this year. I would expect Utah to contend for the conference title and finish in the Top 3 of the conference.
3. Do you believe that Utah will continue the Pac-10 tradition of scheduling tough non-conference games each year, even though they will likely only get 3 non-con games?
MR- One of Utah's three non-conference spots each year will likely be taken by heated rival BYU. Nothing is official yet but both sides would like to continue the fierce rivalry every season. With the two spots left, I would expect to see Utah continue to schedule tough non-conference opponents like they do now. It should be easier to schedule bigger schools now since teams are more likely to take a trip to Salt Lake City now that Utah is shedding its "non-BCS" label.
4. Who is the most likely candidate for a 'rival' for Utah in the Pac-12?
MR- Everyone is assuming that Utah and Colorado will be rivals. They are similar schools regionally. Utah and Colorado had a great rivalry for about 50 years that consisted of conference play, then they played every season non-conference for about 15 years after Colorado joined the Big Eight. The rivalry stopped in 1962 and each team hasn't played since. Many expect that rivalry to start again, but if Colorado doesn't get much better it wont be very exciting.
From a competitive standpoint, I like Utah vs. Oregon as rivalry. Utah and Oregon have met non-conference three times over the past ten years with Oregon winning two of the three games. The last two were exciting, close games. Most recently was Oregon's victory in 2009 where the Ducks beat Utah by 7 at home. I see these two teams as very similar competitively, with Oregon having the edge. I can see it developing into a good, competitive rivalry if they are in the same division.
5. What are Utah fans like when they travel? Loud? Arrogant? Respectful? Fun? Rowdy?
MR- I would describe Utah fans as loud and crazy but also respectful. Utah fans aren't arrogant, they realize their place in the Pac-10 as the "new guy". Utah tends to travel well. At the Fiesta Bowl in 2005 vs. Pitt, Utah had about 80% of the fans there. Utah travels best on the West Coast where their alumni are.
Each year Utah's student section, The MUSS, offers a discounted road trip to students to one of Utah's away games. In 2009, Oregon fans probably noticed the students in Autzen. You will probably see The MUSS eventually at your stadium and they will be a bit more rowdy. Usually the MUSS Bus sends about two or three bus loads of students to a game.
6. What is your biggest concern with the Utes first season in the Pac-12?
MR- My biggest concern for Utah is the weekly grind of playing in a more difficult conference. Playing Oregon, USC, Arizona back to back is certainly different than playing TCU, then a team like San Diego State. I think Utah is at a high enough level to handle the competition at the top, but we will see how they can handle it week in and week out. I think Kyle Whittingham will get the job done.
Thanks to Mr. Rueckert for his insight. Hopefully we will be hearing more from him as the season moves forward.