It may have been played at a time when some people on the east coast had tuned out of college football for the day, but even the people who don't give a second glance at a Pac-12 game at bar would have to take notice of what Utah did to Oregon at Autzen Stadium. They clicked on all cylinders and blew out what has been the "it" program in the conference for several years now. They Oregon'd Oregon by dropping a 60 burger on them. It was a boat race of the best program in their own conference in what is considered one of the toughest places to play in the nation.
There is still a lot of football left to be played this season, but the significance of the win can't be ignored. It's probably right up there with the Utes' Sugar Bowl victory versus Alabama and it could be argued that this might be even a bigger program win, especially when it comes to recruiting.
They were the David beating Goliath when they beat Alabama with the Tide being a symbol of SEC dominance and them being the Mountain West underdog. Even by doing that, there was only so much they could capitalize on from that win when it comes to recruiting. Sure, they could beat Alabama and go undefeated, but they were never going to win a national title playing in the Mountain West.
One thing that win did do is help them get an invite into the Pac-12. It took them awhile to get their footing after they joined and it wasn't until last season that they finally started not just competing, but beating some of the upper tier teams in the conference.
And though the talent level has improved for them since they joined the conference, they still don't recruit close to an elite level. Since they were accepted as a member of the Pac-12 in 2011, they have not finished better than 6th in the recruiting rankings according to the 247Sports composite rankings. They have finished 6th, 8th, 9th, 11th, and 10th. They are 9th in the conference when it comes to team talent composite as well. That isn't what you'd expect from a team that beat UCLA and USC last season and destroyed Oregon last week.
So much credit has to be give to Kyle Whittingham and his staff for developing lower rated players, but also identifying players who have the talent to develop into elite players in the conference. Nate Orchard is an obvious example of a guy who was viewed as a 3 star receiver recruit by many of the recruiting sites. Utah saw a linebacker who could potentially grow into an edge rusher and he ended up delivering 18.5 sacks as a senior last season.
This year's team also has unheralded freshmen contributing like 2 star slot receiver Britain Covey (two touchdowns vs Oregon), who was an undersized dual-threat quarterback in high school. Tight end Caleb Repp (two touchdowns vs Oregon) was a 3 star wide receiver recruit who didn't quite have dynamic speed, but at 6'5" he is a big target who uses his body well to shield defenders and has an awesome compete level when the ball is in the air. These two are perfect examples of how they are able to find lower rated recruits with blue chip traits.
What they did versus Oregon and where the program is right now is extremely impressive given the raw talent gap they face versus the majority of the teams in the conference. Now the question is whether a win like this, and a potential run at making the Pac-12 championship game, could help propel them to closing that overall talent gap and boost their recruiting to closer to the top of the conference. In other words, can they do what TCU has done in the Big 12?
Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs were also a Mountain West program who took some lumps when they jumped up to a Power 5 conference schedule. They had a fantastic year last season and just narrowly missed out on making the College Football Playoff. It's amazing that they did all of this considering they are 7th in the conference in terms of recruiting talent.
TCU has parlayed last year's success on the field into a great recruiting class. They have seven 4 star players committed to them for 2016 and have the top ranked class in the Big 12. They only have seven players who were ranked as 4 star prospects on their entire roster!
Utah had a good season last year and currently have the 7th best class in the Pac-12 and zero composite 4 star commits. If they build on what they did versus Oregon the rest of the way this season, then the 2017 class is where it could end up paying larger dividends in recruiting.
They don't have the local talent base surrounding them like TCU has, but the 2017 class in the state of Utah has some talent. The Utes have struggled to land the top players from the state and that was especially obvious last season when 5 star linebackers Osa Masina and Porter Gustin chose USC and Utah was never really in the mix to sign either of them. A run to the Pac-12 title game might just help them get over the hump and land in-state 4 star prospects like running back Sione Heimuli-Lund, safety Chaz Ah You, and defensive tackle Jay Tufele.
Both TCU and Utah have done a great job developing players, are well-coached, and play a physical style of football. (Don't be fooled by the Air Raid at TCU. They are still a physical football team) TCU had a breakout season in 2014 and turned that on-field success into recruiting success. Utah may be another former member of the Mountain West who can do the same kind of thing if they can go on a run in 2015.