When we look back at the summer of 2010, it was a huge time for Utah football because it was announced they would be joining the Pac-12 Conference starting with the 2011 season. Utah was the first team to bust the BCS in 2004, and they became the first BCS Buster to join a BCS (now Power Five) conference. The move to the Pac-12 has paid huge dividends for the Utah football team. They have been ranked in every College Football Playoff ranking. The only other teams to accomplish that feat have won the last four national championships: Florida State, Ohio State, Alabama, and Clemson. Utah has also landed some of the highest rated recruits in program history. In the six years since joining the Pac-12, the Utah football team has reached a new height. Now, let’s look five years ahead and predict where Utah might be, what might be the same, and what might be different. Here are five predictions for the next five years.
Utah Will Sign More High Profile Recruits
The Utah football program is trending upward. The team has won nine games or more in each of the last three seasons and has seen an uptick in recruiting. Garett Bolles, who was drafted in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, is one of the highest rated recruits ever to sign with and play for Utah, joining Utah as part of the 2016 recruiting class. In their 2017 recruiting class, Utah signed the highest rated high school recruit in program history in cornerback Jaylon Johnson. In addition to Bolles and Johnson, Utah has landed four other four-star recruits in the last two classes. The Utah coaching staff made a shift in how they recruit; they began to target more highly rated recruits and were in the running for many of them until the end. If Utah can continue to win nine or more games, they will start to land more recruits in the caliber of Bolles and Johnson. 2018 four-star quarterback Jack Tuttle is one such player, who is committed to Utah and will participate in the Elite 11 this summer. Having the most players selected in the 2017 NFL Draft of any Pac-12 team could also provide a huge recruiting boost.
Hiring Troy Taylor Will Lead to a Pac-12 Championship
The decision to hire offensive coordinator Troy Taylor from the same position at Eastern Washington says to me that Utah is committed to improving their offense moving forward. Utah consistently fields one of the best defenses in the Pac-12 year in and year out, but it has been the offense that has held to program back from winning a Pac-12 South title. Taylor has developed a successful scheme that he now brings to Utah. It may take some time for him to get his offense implemented, but I think when he does, it will be effective and help lead Utah to a Pac-12 Championship.
Rice-Eccles Stadium Will be Expanded
I believe we will see an expansion to Rice-Eccles Stadium in the next five years. The most likely scenario is closing off the South End Zone and making general improvements to the facilities contained there (i.e. locker rooms, media room, etc.). We could also see more luxury boxes added and maybe some more hospitality amenities. The University has announced a feasibility study for expanding Rice-Eccles Stadium earlier this spring. Athletic director Dr. Chris Hill is taking a cautious approach to expanding the stadium and does not want a situation to happen akin to what happened at Cal with their expansion of Memorial Stadium that put financial strain on the school. The stadium improvements will also be made using athletic department money and donations only.
Kyle Whittingham Will Still be Utah’s Head Coach
There will almost certainly be some turnover among the assistant coaches on the staff. Utah has several coaches who could be head coaches in the next five years if they want. I do not think we see a change at head coach unless Kyle Whittingham either retires or leaves for a new job (which seems highly unlikely outside of maybe an NFL job). Whittingham is the longest tenured head coach in the Pac-12 and has been a coach at Utah for more than 20 years. He has turned down multiple other high profile jobs (like Tennessee in 2010). He also has the football program consistently competing in the Pac-12 for three straight years and has brought in two of the best recruiting classes in program history in 2016 and 2017.
Utah Will Not Lose to BYU in the Next Five Years
While the Utah-BYU rivalry games are always hard fought games and usually are decided by one score, Utah has dominated the series of late, winning six in a row. After joining the Pac-12, Utah has started to recruit at a higher level and has not lost to BYU. In five years, will Utah’s winning streak over BYU still be going? There is definitely a chance. BYU head coach Kalani Sitake is building his team the right way and knows the Utah football team well. While BYU could certainly beat Utah in the next five years, it is not out of the question to predict Utah runs the winning streak up to 11 in a row.
In five years, I think we will look back at this time period as the point in time where the Utah program really started to ascend in the Pac-12. The shift in recruiting philosophy coupled with the hiring of Taylor are moves that have the potential to move Utah into the upper echelon of the Pac-12 in the next five years. There is no question, the future of the Utah football program is bright!