The University of Utah basketball program has given a new meaning to the nickname “Runnin’ Utes”. After seeing their program fall into the depths of despair under the watch of Jim Boylen the Utes are now “Runnin’ Scared” from 100+ years of basketball tradition by putting a sudden stop to their series with the Utah State Aggies.
This decision comes as no surprise to many Utah State fans. They’ve seen this before. In 2006, Utah State’s other in-state rival, the BYU Cougars successfully weaseled their way out of playing Utah State, and successfully avoided the Spectrum for four consecutive years. They finally returned to Logan after Utah State legend and all-time scorer Jaycee Carroll had graduated and moved on. Unfortunately for them it didn’t matter. The Aggies once again made quick work of the Cougars defeating them (Jimmer and all) 71-61 in 2009.
First the Cougars, and now the Utes… What gives? Here are a few things to consider:
The Spectrum is a death sentence to virtually every opponent who dares enter. Since Stew Morrill took the helm at Utah State, the Aggies have amassed a ridiculous home record of 193-13. Yes. One hundred and ninety-three wins and a paltry thirteen losses. In fact, over the last four seasons the Aggies are 68-1 at home including three undefeated seasons. Their one loss came at the hands of the St. Mary’s Gaels due to some late game heroics.
The Spectrum atmosphere is widely considered as one of the best college basketball atmospheres in the country. The loudest thing I have ever heard in my life was when Chaz Spicer hit the game winning 3-point shot against Utah on Dec, 6, 2006. The noise level apparently got to the point where my ears could no longer register the sounds and it all meshed into a surreal eerie silence. A few years ago against Nevada, former Aggie Stavon Williams said that the Spectrum noise level made him dizzy and forget where he was momentarily after scoring these 8 straight points against the Wolfpack. Jared Eborn put it best in this article when he called it “ear-splitting thunder” causing press row to literally hold their hands over their ears for minutes at a time to avoid permanent hearing loss.
Records Against In-State Foes
Over the last ten years the Aggies have not lost a single game to an in-state foe in Logan, Utah. They are a combined 21-0 against BYU, Utah, Weber State, Utah Valley, and Southern Utah. That includes six straight victories over Weber State, five straight over both BYU and Utah, three straight over Utah Valley, and two straight over Southern Utah.
In recent years the Aggies have not only been competing with, but beating BYU and Utah for in-state recruits. A great example occurred earlier this year. After firing Jim Boylen (a great move by the Utes after his repeated failed attempts at being anything more than a steaming hot-head sideshow attempting to lead a crumbling basketball program) the Utes hired Larry Krystkowiak. Larry had a good relationship with Stew Morrill after playing under him at the University of Montana. Upon landing the head coaching job for the Utes Krystkowiak called up Stew for some advice on the lay of the land in the State of Utah Basketball scene. Within one week of this friendly phone call “Coach K” went out and attempted to steal Quicy Bair who had verbally committed to the Aggies nearly a year prior. Bair promptly gave the Utes a “Thanks, but no thanks” and stayed committed to the Aggies. Other examples of players who have been wooed by BYU and Utah but eventually became Aggies are Gary Wilkinson, Tai Wesley, Tyler Newbold, and Brady Jardine. The Utes and Cougars still win a fair share of recruiting battles (mostly the Cougars due to their LDS-based school advantages – see Steven Rogers and Brandon Davies), but the gap has definitely tightened in recent years.
In-state games in the Spectrum against BYU and Utah are recruiting gold-mines for Stew and co. These oft televised games guarantee a rabid, sold out environment, and nearly always end with an Aggie victory. It’s no secret that Morrill has done all he can to pack the house with his recruits for these games. Nothing like taking your in-state rivals out to the woodshed for an annual beating in front of your prized recruits.
The PAC 12 Dillema
The Utes will be officially entering PAC 12 play this year. This affects the Utah vs. Utah State rivalry for a few reasons.
First, Utah now has two fewer out of conference games to deal with. However, this didn’t stop them from scheduling the likes of San Diego Christian College, Cal State Fullerton, Idaho State, Montana State, and Portland. All at home I might add. That’s REALLY going to help your RPI. At least they will have a shot at amassing some wins. Then again… nothing is guaranteed with the Utes anymore. Remember Southwest Baptist anyone?
Moving to a BCS conference has also affected Utah’s scheduling philosophies. What do most BCS schools do? Play cupcakes at home during OOC play, amass impressive win-loss records, and then start conference play against conference-mates who have done the same. There are few exceptions to this rule. How often have you seen BCS teams come to play in Logan? It’s incredibly hard to talk them into it. They have nothing to win and everything to lose. You would think that Utah would respect the rivalry and have the guts to play the Aggies in Logan. But you would be wrong.
There is only one word that can be used to describe the current “Runnin’ Utes”…
(Image created by Jason Wright.)