What You Need to Know About the Utah Utes Before They Join the Big 12

NCAA Football: Utah Spring Game

The Utah Utes are part of the four corners schools in the Pac-12 that are joining the Big 12 Conference next month, pushing membership to 16 teams.  

Utah has only been a power conference school since 2011, but the Utes’ football program has grown into one that could compete in the Big 12 right away.

Here are five things to know about the Buffs as their new tenure in the Big 12 begins.



Utah didn’t start as the University of Utah. It was formed in 1850 as the University of Deseret and became the University of Utah in 1892, four years after Utah became a state. The campus has been in the same place since 1900.

Utah formed the state’s first medical school, has its own law school, and is a member of the Association of American Universities. It is classified as a public research university, and as of 2023, it had an enrollment of more than 35,000 students.

Utah was independent in football until 1909, when it joined the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, which is today a Division II conference. Joining the RMAC put the Utes in the same league as Colorado at the time.

Utah joined the Mountain States Athletic Conference in 1938, followed by the WAC in 1962, the latter of which put it in the same conference as Arizona and Arizona State.

The Utes left the WAC for the Mountain West in 1999 and then joined the Pac-12 in 2011.


Utah sponsors the following NCAA sports for men (baseball, basketball, football, golf, lacrosse, skiing, swimming and diving, and tennis) and women (basketball, cross country, gymnastics, skiing, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, volleyball and beach volleyball).


Like Colorado, Utah sponsors skiing and the program is highly successful, with 14 co-ed titles and one each for the men and women before the sport went co-ed.

The other big draw is women’s gymnastics, which draws some of the best attendance numbers in the country. The Utes have won 10 national titles and go to the national championships nearly every year.

The men’s basketball team won the 1944 NCAA Tournament and produced Wataru Misaka, the first person of color to play in the NBA. The Utes reached the 1998 national title game but fell to Kentucky.

Most recently, the softball team reached the Women’s College World Series in 2023, and the men’s lacrosse team has found success in the ASUN, as the Big 12 doesn’t sponsor lacrosse.

Andrew Bogut (NBA) and Alex Smith (NFL) were No. 1 overall picks in the same year, the only time in pro sports history that’s ever happened. Football hasn’t produced a Heisman Trophy winner, but Mac Speedie and Larry Wilson are members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Smith and Ike Armstrong are in the College Football Hall of Fame.


In-state, the game is the so-called “Holy War” with BYU. The two teams first met in 1896, but BYU — then Brigham Young Academy — doesn’t count those games (the six games were split, 3-3). So, the overall record in the series depends on who you ask.


Utah has a 59-34-2 in games that are recognized by both schools that date back to 1922. BYU snapped its nine-game losing streak to the Utes in 2021. Their meeting in Big 12 play will be their first since that game.

Utah State is the other significant in-state rivalry, which is called the “Battle of the Brothers.” The Utes and Aggies first played in 1892 and played every year from 1944-2009. The rivalry is no longer a yearly game, but the Utes lead the series, 79-30-4. They last played in 2015.

Colorado and Utah developed a rivalry that dated back to 1903 but went on pause in the early 1960s. When the pair joined the Pac-12, the rivalry rebooted and Utah has a narrow lead in the series.


Kyle Whittingham has been at Utah since 1994, when he joined the program as a defensive line coach. When Urban Meyer left the Utes to take over at Florida after the 2004 season, the Utes elevated Whittingham. Before Utah joined the Power 5, he led the Utes to a 13-0 season in 2008, which led to a BCS Bowl berth, a win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and a No. 2 ranking in the final AP Top 25.

He is 162-79 at Utah and led the Utes to the 2021 and 2022 Pac-12 titles.

Craig Smith, formerly of Utah State and South Dakota, took over the Utes men’s basketball program in 2021. Last season was his best with Utah, as he led the Utes to a 22-15 record and a trip to the NIT semifinals.

Lynne Roberts is entering her 10th season as Utah’s women’s basketball coach after a 10-year head-coaching stint at Pacific. She has 162 wins at Utah, but she’s led the Utes to at least 21 wins in each of the last three seasons, along with a Pac-12 regular season title in 2022-23 and three straight NCAA Tournament berths. The Utes reached the Sweet 16 in 2023.

Gary Henderson is the baseball coach. At one time, the head coach at Kentucky, he has been at Utah for three seasons and is coming off his best campaign in 2024. The Utes won 33 games and finished in seventh place in the Pac-12. With Kentucky, he took the Wildcats to two NCAA regionals, and as Mississippi State’s interim coach in 2018, he took the Bulldogs to the College World Series.

Amy Hogue, a former Utah softball star, has been the coach at Utah since 2008. She’s won more than 450 games with the Utes and led them to the 2023 Women’s College World Series.


Utah is the most interesting school coming into the league, as there was a lot of noise around the Utes wanting a berth in the Big Ten instead of the Big 12. Whittingham said last year that he didn’t believe the Utes were done playing UCLA, which is moving to the Big Ten, for example. Some took that to mean Utah was fishing for a berth. The Big Ten didn’t show any real interest in Utah, but some fans haven’t let it go.

It’s a shame because Utah is a great, competitive fit for the Big 12. Their football team could be ready immediately. The softball team is a year removed from the WCWS. The other three core sports should compete right away, too.

Mark Harlan has been the athletic director at Utah since 2018 and the school has taken quickly to being part of the power conference structure of college sports. He has a contract extension through 2028.

You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.

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