Patrick Kinahan: Former coach sees Big Ten or SEC in Utah's future


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SALT LAKE CITY — Add another voice to the growing contingent that believes college sports, which is dictated by football, is due for more significant shakeups.

Former longtime football coach Rick Neuheisel, who co-hosts a college sports show on satellite radio, expects major change to occur at some point over the next six years. He's in line with many coaches and administrators predicting more dramatic shifts as television contracts expire.

The local angle to Neuheisel's opinion involves the University of Utah. In another dream-come-true similar to Utah joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the ex-head coach at Washington, Colorado and UCLA thinks the Utes will join either of the two best football conferences.

"I will be shocked if they're not in the SEC or the Big Ten by the next go-around, by 2030, because people are going to say, 'We need that team in our league,''' Neuheisel said on his show last week.

His forecast mirrors the sentiments of Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who has repeatedly expressed his belief expecting change. This comes on the heels of the Pac-12's implosion over the last two summers, beginning with USC and UCLA deciding to leave for the Big Ten.

Unable to land a sufficient television deal, the conference essentially collapsed last summer with the defection of six institutions. Once Washington and Oregon left for the Big Utah, Utah went with Arizona, Arizona State and Colorado to the Big 12.

Yet, Utah's stay in the new conference may end up being shorter than the 13 years it belonged to the Pac-12. In the week leading up to last season's game against UCLA, Whittingham said the two programs could be back in the same conference in the coming years.

"Football has changed so much," Whittingham said in September. "We went years and years and years with very little change at all, and now it's complete upheaval. And I can tell you right now, we'll play UCLA again down the road because it's going to change again. There's going to be a massive shift."

The Utes probably would have preferred to stay with an intact Pac-12 but was forced to move once half the conference bailed. Before having no choice but to join the Big 12, the administration did petition the Big Ten but, obviously, wasn't included in last summer's expansion.

Given the huge financial disparity between the top two conferences and the Big 12, Utah likely would jump at the chance to join the Big Ten or SEC. As it stands, the television deals for both conferences more than double the amount of money the Big 12 will receive.

But all that will have to wait, knowing that overhauling all of college football will continue to overwhelm the sport. For now, the only definite is the season begins in less than three months.

Without Oklahoma and Texas, which left for the SEC, the reconfigured Big 12 will kick off the annual rites of summer with football media days on July 9-10 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. Utah is expected to be among the championship contenders, along with Oklahoma State and Kansas State, possibly among others.

"We know what Kyle Whittingham can do," Neuheisel said. "There is no Oklahoma and Texas in the Big 12. The home field at Rice-Eccles is as valuable as anywhere else in the Big 12. To me, Utah is the team to really watch."

Neuheisel speaks from experience, having lost at Utah in his last season as the UCLA head coach in 2011. Since 2018, the Utes are 32-3 playing before sold-out crowds at home.

"Utah is a proven entity under Kyle Whittingham," Neuheisel said. "The formula is almost always the same — you win with defense, and you try to be as productive as you can on offense."

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Patrick is a radio host for 97.5/1280 The Zone and the Zone Sports Network. He, along with David James, are on the air Monday-Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.

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