Gordon Monson: A list of extraordinary possibilities exist for Utah … – Salt Lake Tribune

(Marcio Jose Sanchez | AP) Utah running back Ja'Quinden Jackson (3) celebrates his touchdown during the first half in the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game against Penn State Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Pasadena, Calif.
A savvy poker player once said: “A gambler never makes the same mistake twice. It’s usually three or more times.”
Let’s make it an even four. Four on the floor.
So here they are: Four things a smart man wouldn’t bet on, wouldn’t bet a nickel on, but, hell’s bells, let’s do it, anyway; throw down on the table an untidy quartet of optimism, things to count on happening in Utah sports over the next year or so. If you’re too scared to risk a little on what’s possible, pipe dreams will rattle you to your core. Let’s get rattling.
1. BYU football makes a splash in its first season in the Big 12.
This is a reach, considering the overall collection of talent in the program, including a lack of depth, lack of defense, lack of an effective pass rush, among other deficiencies.
What’s left? Um … the Cougars will be solid along their offensive front and new quarterback Kedon Slovis seems to have impressed almost everyone so far. BYU’s apparently been able to shakily hang onto some good receivers through the transfer portal. Offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick is a smart, creative man who wants the ball firing downfield, so, if the Cougars are able to do that in a high-octane league, they will be buoyant enough to — how to say it — stay afloat. Stay afloat and make that splash.
With a schedule that includes Texas, Oklahoma, TCU, Oklahoma State, among others, the question does beg to be answered: Can BYU fans hang with a team that might ricochet around a bit in the initial year of playing in a P5 league, enjoying what they’ve longed for over such an elongated period without … you know, winning and winning?
That’s the wrong question to ask, because for our purposes here, the Cougars will roar. They might not win a whole bunch, but they will burp and growl and scratch and claw. And come what may, anything’s better than independence.
It took Utah a while to get up to speed in the Pac-12, so it’s easy — and lazy — to expect BYU to wade through a similar early stretch in the Big 12. Perhaps a fan base conditioned to show patience through all those seasons of independence will have the patience necessary now that they’ve gotten what they wished for. But then, maybe they won’t need it, so they can immediately rise and shout to be the obstinate and sometimes insufferable winners they were back in LaVell’s day. Wouldn’t that be special?
2. Utah football wins the Pac-12, again, and then wins whatever bowl game it qualifies for as its reward for a stellar season.
Has the novelty of getting into the Rose Bowl worn off or at least worn a little thin now that the Utes have done that two years running without hoisting a trophy at the end? Naaahh, that’s all done with.
Hard to find anyone to complain about what Utah does on the field these days, stumbling at times, but taking five steps forward for every single step back. Kyle Whittingham has Utah football as not only the best program in the state, but the best in the West. Is a College Football Playoff spot on the horizon? Some people ask, why? Others ask, why not?
Yeah, Washington will be good this coming season, USC is USC, with a fantastic quarterback at the wheel, Oregon has its athletes and Oregon State, watch out for the Beavers. The Utes will have their challenges, but if the seasons of the past have demonstrated anything, it’s that Utah not only has talent, it has a culture of resiliency, and the value of that last thing, in what will be a competitive conference, is more than just something coaches talk about. It’s what they need, what Utah has.
If Cam Rising is healthy, which he’s on track to be, Utah will be … well, Utah. And that has become an order of significant praise. The Utes are on their way.
3. The Utah Jazz use their 15 first-round draft picks in place over the next six years to their advantage sooner rather than later.
This is to say, make their move forward and upward … you know, while they’re young, while we’re young, while everybody’s young. It was intriguing what Jazz management did last season, clearing out their expensive stars, garnering back an emerging one and developing a surprising one. Even if you wanted to be positive and assume Ochai Agbaji will be a great 3-and-D guy, and the complimentary pieces will be pretty good, the Jazz need more — a lot more.
And that’s just to be better off than they were during the Donovan Mitchell-Rudy Gobert seasons. To really contend, it will require something that is unfair to expect, but nonetheless necessary. Danny Ainge will have to be smarter than the executives he deals with. He’ll have to get more back than what he offers.
Not easy, but that’s his job, so, he will.
And that includes those draft picks. He’ll have to unload some of them, using them as bait for additional young-but-experienced talent to add to Lauri Markkanen, Walker Kessler and Agbaji. Those guys, while fun to watch grow in their roles, are nowhere near enough. And watching them languish in a state of competitive mediocrity over the next couple of seasons would rub the joy and promise of last season down to the nub.
There will be no rubbing to the nub.
The progress will go throttle up this offseason, next season and the offseason immediately thereafter. No way the Jazz find themselves right back where they were — or worse — with Mitchell and Gobert.
Say it with me now. N-n-n-n-n-nope.
It may not be fair that the Jazz’s climb is steep, not being able to land marquee free agents to make up for draft mistakes, but … they have to utilize advanced acumen, more advanced than everyone else. And that’s the way it’s been since the Jazz arrived here from New Orleans coming up on 50 years ago. Wait and watch.
4. Tangible evidence of progress emerges of getting NHL and MLB teams in Salt Lake City.
It’s gonna happen.
Ryan Smith dangled that first one out there for everybody to see, as did Gail Miller on the second one. Now, someone’s gotta make it real. And the major parties on this side have already been mentioned. Don’t short their shrift.
On the one hand, neither of them would have raised the possibility in such a public way had each not been encouraged at some level by league commissioners. On the other, at least with baseball, potential cities have to throw their candidacy out to the world, or at least to existing owners, all loud and proud in order to build momentum for any decent shot.
Salt Lake is a big league town, one that’s growing in population and corporate firepower, a community whose leaders appear to have educated themselves enough to grasp the benefits top-level pro sports franchises, clubs that are run well, can bring both economically and … what’s the word? … psychologically to residents.
With so much division in college loyalties, the red and the blue — former governor Mike Leavitt once told me the No. 1 question he was asked as he traveled the state was this: Are you a BYU or Utah fan? — and in politics, public policy, social issues and religion, it’s valuable to have something — a sports team — that brings the community together.
Even if they are expansion teams that suck for a decade. But, like the song says, the pups do grow up.
Some ask questions about Sunday attendance, whether fans will be too busy going to church to go to the ballpark or the arena. Whenever that subject comes up, the words of a prominent Christian pastor in Los Angeles come to mind. He said, not meaning it literally, but even spoken figuratively it was strong enough to remember: “Sports is the God of our age.”
There’s room enough in Utah to praise the Almighty, to scarf a dog and sit in for a doubleheader at the park or three periods at the rink on the same Sabbath day — without anyone going to H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks.
Can’t guarantee that, but I’m willing to bet on it.
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