OSU football commentary: Utah finding out how tough it is to be in BCS conference

2011-10-27T11:00:00Z OSU football commentary: Utah finding out how tough it is to be in BCS conferenceBy STEVE GRESS, Corvallis Gazette-Times Corvallis Gazette Times
October 27, 2011 11:00 am  • 

Back in late July, Kyle Whittingham and Tony Bergstrom sat in front of the assembled media members who cover the Pac-12 Conference.

They talked about how excited they, the University of Utah and the residents of Salt Lake City were to be entering the conference.

"It's something that's been talked about in Salt Lake City for a lot of years, even back when it was the Pac-8, going that far back," Whittingham, Utah's seventh-year coach, said.

"So it's something that's very exciting for the university, for the community, and big challenges lie ahead. We're fully aware that the Pac-12 is a good conference, lot of good football teams. But with big challenge comes big opportunity. We're excited about the opportunity we have moving forward."

When asked if joining the Pac-12 and the challenge it would bring was a big deal to Bergstrom and his teammates, Utah's senior right tackle said absolutely.

"You kind of look at it as sort of a payoff for all the hard work you've put in," he said. "We feel like we've done well and had a lot of success. We've worked hard and feel like we work as hard as anyone in the country, so this is kind of our payoff for that."

I wonder how they are feeling right about now.

So far, the jury is still out as to whether the Utes will be up to the task. Sure, losing starting quarterback Jordan Wynn hasn't helped, but the Utes are still looking for their first Pac-12 win as they get set to host Oregon State on Saturday.

And this will be their fifth try.

Utah is 0-4 in the Pac-12 and has scored no more than 14 points in any of those four games. In fact, the Utes have been outscored 123-52 in conference play.

OSU coach Mike Riley is a bit surprised by the record after watching the Utes on film.

"Utah has played good games within our conference," he said. "They played one of the most talented teams in the country (USC) right down to the end of the game and had a chance to win it."

As members of the Mountain West Conference, Utah got the reputation of being a BCS-buster, first under former coach Urban Meyer. That continued after Meyer left for Florida and Whittingham took over.

Let's not forget the thrashing Utah put on Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. The next year the Crimson Tide won the national title.

But no matter how well the Utes played, they were resigned to the fact they would probably never get a chance to play for a national title.

Utah entered the Pac-12 with a lot of expectations. Many predicted the Utes to win the new Pac-12 South (yours truly included) in part because they weren't scheduled to play North powers Oregon and Stanford.

But the Utes have quickly found out the Pac-12 is not the MWC. And it hasn't been pretty.

The competition is just a bit steeper.

"There's not many breaks in our league," Riley said. "Once you get into our league play it's very competitive. Nine, even though it doesn't sound like much, that's a lot of league games and it's more than anybody else plays."

Whittingham knew it wouldn't be easy.

"Week in and week out we're fully aware we need to bring our A-game," Whittingham said back in July. "We've fared fairly well over the last eight to 10 years playing against the BCS schools on a sporadic basis. But as you mentioned, playing week in and week out is something that we've got to be ready for."

Maybe it is unfair to use this season as a measuring stick for the Utes. They are playing a whole slate of new opponents.

Whittingham said recruiting picked up immediately after the Utes joined the Pac-12.

"Many of those players we would not have been able to get in on without BCS conference affiliation," Whittingham said of the players who committed right after the announcement in June 2010.

"So the impact of recruiting was felt right away and has carried over into this past recruiting season."

That might bode well for the future.

But for now, the Utes are proving that playing with the big boys on a weekly basis isn't as easy as it may look on paper.

Steve Gress is the sports editor of the Corvallis Gazette-Times. He can be reached at steve.gress@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/stevegress19.

Copyright 2014 Corvallis Gazette Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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