Whittingham eyeballs the Pac-10, er, Pac-12

February, 11, 2011
2/11/11
11:38
AM ET
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is a details guy. Most football coaches are. But some details are new and take some getting used to.

"There are a lot of good football teams in the Pac-10," he said before catching himself. "I guess we'll call it the Pac-12 now."

Yep. Welcome.

Whittingham -- wisely, if you think about how redundant the questions would have been -- didn't talk about his Utes move into the Pac-12 this past season. But he admits it was impossible to completely block out. He called it "human nature" that he, perhaps, paid just a bit more attention to Pac-10 highlights, or checked out Pac-10 box scores with more than a casual interest.

[+] EnlargeKyle Whittingham
AP Photo/Jim UrquhartUtah coach Kyle Whittingham is looking forward to the challenges of playing in the Pac-12.
Further, it was an issue in recruiting. When he reached out to a prospect, he could promise more than he could in the past, starting with an affiliation with an automatic-qualifying conference. That's the bright lights, big city of college football. "Son," Whittingham can now ask a young, West Coast hot shot, "would you like to one day play in the Rose Bowl?"

A recruit in Southern California who thinks Salt Lake City is somewhere near Narnia? No problem: "Son, Utah is in the Pac-12 South Division with USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado. You'll get plenty of sunshine during the season and you'll come home for a game every year and get to see your mommy."

You cannot underestimate what a game-changer that can be in recruiting. Said Whittingham, "Without a doubt we were able to get in on several players that we would have had no chance of getting in on without the affiliation with the Pac-12."

Exhibit No. 1: Receiver Quinton Pedroza, the Utes' top-rated signee. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder from Chino, Calif., switched his allegiance from Arizona State on signing day.

Of course, competing for better players in recruiting also means a higher level of competition. Utah lost a pair of committed players to other Pac-12 schools: quarterback Derrick Brown to Washington and cornerback Ryan Henderson to USC.

As Whittingham said, "Now that you're in on them, you're in on them with several other high-profile schools and the competition is just as intense."

Speaking of competition, the nine-game Pac-12 schedule figures to present an uptick in degree of difficulty for the Utes, even though the Mountain West Conference has fared well when matched with the Pac-10 in recent years. Whittingham is 4-3 against Pac-10 teams since taking over for Urban Meyer in 2005, beating California, Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona.

"The week-in and week-out level of competition is ratcheted up," Whittingham said. "There are some excellent football teams in the Mountain West Conference. ... Not to downplay or disrespect anything that's going on in the Mountain West, but we're convinced the weekly challenges will be much more difficult than they have been in years' past for us."

There is also an atypical challenge for both Utah and Colorado (and Nebraska as it heads into the Big Ten): Little to no "local knowledge."

Just about every FBS team will be familiar with the vast majority of its schedule next year. It will have first-hand knowledge about personnel, schemes, tendencies, etc., of most of its opponents because it plays a regular conference schedule annually. Utah and Colorado will not. The Utes didn't play a Pac-10 team last year, and Colorado only got blasted at California. Essentially, they will play a slate of what feels like 12 nonconference foes. So they are playing catch-up with scouting and preparation compared to the rest of the reconfigured conference.

"That does present a challenge having very little knowledge about the vast majority of the teams in the conference you're moving into," Whittingham said.

But Whittingham pointed to the hiring of offensive coordinator Norm Chow and offensive line coach Tim Davis as providing a helpful crutch. Chow, you may have heard, was UCLA's coordinator the previous three seasons, while Davis coached at USC from 2002-2004.

So Whittingham will have some help looking forward. As for looking back at the Mountain West, that's really not Whittingham's thing.

"I'm not a sentimental guy, so there's really no emotional ties or anything of that nature," he said. "I can say the Mountain West was very good for us. It was a good run."

And now it's all about the Pac-10. Er, Pac-12.

Ted Miller | email

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