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The top 10 biggest moments in Utah Utes athletics over the last decade

By Josh Furlong, KSL.com | Posted - Jan. 1, 2020 at 1:02 p.m.



SALT LAKE CITY — No decade has been as influential for Utah athletics as the 2010s. Here’s a look at the past decade and many of the things that took place over the last 10 years.

Invitation to the Pac-12

Nothing over the last 10 years compares to the monumental jump Utah took when it accepted an invitation to join the Pac-12 in 2011. The move sent shock waves around the country as several conferences were forced to realign as a handful of teams switched conference allegiances. The move to a Power Five conference has forever changed Utah athletics.

Most of the following items are a direct result of Utah making the move to the Pac-12.

Larry Krystkowiak takes on BYU

Utah men’s basketball head coach Larry Krystkowiak put a hold on the in-state rivalry with BYU after some heated moments in a game in 2015. BYU guard Nick Emery punched Utah guard Brandon Taylor, and Krystkowiak said a “cooling off period” was needed in the series. Krystkowiak and the university chose to cancel the 2016 and 2017 games before resuming the rivalry again in 2018. The pause in the rivalry broke up the longest consecutive matchup between two schools in any sport since 1909.

Facility upgrades

As a direct result of Utah joining the Pac-12, there has been an explosion of upgraded and newly built facilities for the various athletic programs across campus. Most notable were the $32 million, 150,000-square-foot Spence and Cleone Eccles Football Center and the $36 million, 90,000-square-foot Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Facility for the men’s and women’s basketball programs.

Utah also renovated the Jon M. Huntsman Center and secured funding to renovate Rice-Eccles Stadium in the coming years, among several other facilities. Each facility helps the various athletic programs in their training needs and is a vital recruitment selling point to prospective players.

Winning Pac-12 titles

The Utah gymnastics program has been one of the most consistent athletic programs around the country, so winning three Pac-12 titles comes as no surprise given their history. Still, as competition improves, the Red Rocks continued to win and claim the conference title in 2014, 2015 and 2017.

But the most improbable Pac-12 title goes to the baseball team, which claimed the first-ever men’s title for Utah in 2016. With so many strong baseball programs in the Pac-12, what Utah did in 2017 still seems impossible.

University of Utah baseball players celebrates an outright Pac-12 title after defeating Washington 21-7 on May 29, 2016. (Photo: Scott G Winterton, KSL)

Football program arrives

Yes, Utah had two undefeated seasons in the previous decade, but the football program “arrived” in the Pac-12 after a pair of games against No. 5 Stanford and a blowout win over Oregon in Autzen Stadium — though Kaelin Clay made his own history in a different game against Oregon.

Although the two games were singular events, they highlighted Utah’s progress in the Pac-12, which was only capped off by the 2019 season. The longer Utah has been in the Pac-12, the better the football program has become; but it started with winning games against Stanford and Oregon.

Ain’t it Sweet?

Several programs reached the Sweet 16 in their respective sport over the last 10 years. The men’s basketball team went from a six-win team in 2011-12 season to its first Sweet 16 appearance since the 2004-05 season in 2015. The Utes narrowly lost the game to Duke in Delon Wright’s senior season.

The women’s volleyball team had a pair of Sweet 16 appearances in 2017 and 2019, with its latest coming after a sweep against BYU in Provo. Utah took the Cardinal to a five-set decision before eventually falling to the eventual national champion. Also reaching the Sweet 16 was the women’s soccer team in 2016.

National champs!

In a less-heralded sport, Utah’s ski team has dominated the country in the last few years. The ski team won the national championship in 2017 and recently in 2019. While many other programs have tried, only the ski team has managed to get it done twice.

Oh, and in 2018, we learned that Utah’s 2009 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl constituted a national championship, so congrats Utah football ... I guess.

Utah Utes running back Joe Williams runs the ball during a game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016. (Photo: Spenser Heaps, KSL)

Wait, he retired?

Senior running back Joe Williams called it quits only a few games into the 2016 season. As the team’s starter, Williams wasn’t able to produce much early on. But after several running backs sustained injuries, Utah called on Williams to come out of retirement, and boy, did he come out of retirement.

Williams went on to break Utah’s single-game rushing record against UCLA with 332 rushing yards and four touchdowns and finished the season with a remarkable 1,407 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. He also went on to be drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth round of the NFL draft in 2017.

Whittingham chaos to greatness

Utah football head coach Kyle Whittingham has already cemented his legacy as one of the greatest coaches to come through the University of Utah program. But for a brief stretch, after back-to-back 5-7 seasons, Whittingham was seemingly on the hot seat. There were also rumors of then-athletic director Chris Hill having disagreements with the coach, and Whittingham expressing interest in leaving to coach BYU.

Hill later addressed the drama and said Whittingham was staying put as the team’s football coach. A couple of weeks later, Hill extended Whittingham’s contract on a four-year deal. Whittingham would sign a couple of contract extensions after that and has likely secured his own destiny for the foreseeable future — he recently won the Bobby Dodd Trophy Coach of the Year award. But had Whittingham left, it’s anyone’s guess how the last few years would have fared for the highest-profile sport at the university.

Hallandale Trio commits to Utah

There have been a lot of successful recruits to commit to the various athletic programs at Utah, but few have had the impact the Hallandale Trio has had for the Utah football program. Quarterback Tyler Huntley closed out his career with an incredible passing accuracy rating and led Utah to an 11-2 season; Zack Moss leaves the program as the all-time leading rusher; and Demari Simpkins consistently produced as a receiver over a four-year career.

With the trio committing to Utah, it opened up a pipeline to the fertile recruiting in Florida and established an offensive identity for the football program. It’s hard to completely measure what the Hallandale Trio has done for the football program, but it’s shaped the narrative around the program and has helped secure future recruits.

Honorable mentions

  • Lacrosse added to Division I: It has only been one season, but adding lacrosse to Division I will have a long-term impact on the sport.
  • Jon M. Huntsman Sr. dies: Huntsman was known for his philanthropic gestures, but he was one of the biggest proponents of Utah's athletic department, particularly basketball.

Josh Furlong

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