SALT LAKE CITY — The Pac-12 preseason media football poll was released Wednesday morning, but that wasn’t what Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham was thinking about. Heck, he might never think about it if reporters didn’t ask him.

“OK, first of all, we lost one of the great ones yesterday ... Eddie Van Halen,” said Whittingham to begin his Pac-12 press conference. “I want to give him a little tribute. He’s a great rock-and-roller, one of my all-time favorites, and he will be missed so that’s foremost on my mind right now.”

Though in mourning over Van Halen’s death on Tuesday, Whittingham, a classic rock enthusiast/football coach, did have some interesting things to say about the upcoming season, his thoughts on a possible college football playoff, attendance at home games and more during a half-hour interview ahead of camp opening this Friday.

For one thing, Whittingham has a large group of young men who’ve patiently worked and waited through the COVID-19 pandemic to get a chance to practice and play for real.

“They’re eager to get back on the field in a camp setting,” Whittingham said. “The season will be here before we know it. Four weeks from now we’ll have the Arizona Wildcats in our stadium, so there’s a lot of excitement around here right now.”

Here’s what else was on Whittingham’s mind:

On the playoff expansion:

Whittingham let it be known that he absolutely believes the Pac-12 will play enough games (knock on wood) for its champion to be in the playoff picture. He’d also like to see more than four teams in the College Football Playoff.

“Absolutely. More than ever I do feel that the playoffs should be expanded. I think it’s going to happen. It’s a matter of when not if. So I believe that’s on the horizon.”

On the reported possibility of some fans (family, friends of team) attending games at Rice-Eccles Stadium:

Whittingham emphasized that he has a “safety first” attitude, but he also said he doesn’t believe that the Pac-12 should make a one-size-fits-all rule about attendance when it’s possible that some fans could attend games at Rice-Eccles Stadium (or elsewhere) even while other places might prohibit attendance. He’d rather wait until closer to the games to make decisions.

“We’re still far enough away. Let’s see how things trend,” he said. “We’d love to have the opportunity to have family in the stadium.”

On being picked third in the Pac-12 South:

“We lost a lot of good players. I’d say that’s probably to be expected. We don’t put a lot of stock into that. All that matters, period, is what you do on the field. We’ll coach them no matter whether we’re picked first, third or sixth. It’s no matter to us. We’ve got to go out and play and prove ourselves on the field.”

On the possibility that coronavirus outbreaks might interfere with the revised seven-game schedule:

“We’re hoping we’re able to get them all in. We’d all be elated if we could get seven games in. Just cross our fingers and hope for the best.”

On being able to play his whole roster because the NCAA is freezing players’ eligibility this season:

Whittingham said the two-deep will pretty much be set with guys who were going to play this year anyway, but he’s thrilled to be able to give some guys playing time with special teams. That’s especially beneficial considering they have more than 50 freshmen.

“It gives us the flexibility to play everybody,” Whittingham said, adding that you normally wouldn’t burn someone’s redshirt year just to have them play on special teams. “It gives you access to your entire roster. It’s going to be much different in that aspect.”

Last, but not least, if you ask Whittingham (which some of us did), about his affinity for Van Halen: Whittingham said he’s been a huge fan of Van Halen’s for decades and has gone to several concerts. He’s a rocker at heart and isn’t afraid to tell you about it. He even joked that he’d answer all questions about classic rock during this football chat. Whittingham had high praise for Van Halen’s guitar talent. He considers him an all-time classic rock great. His list of top guitarists — one he’d rather chat about than a media poll — includes Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Van Halen and perhaps Jeff Beck.

“I’ll always play along with classic rock (questions),” he added.

On that note, Whittingham and his players are ready to “jump” into the season.


Pac-12 media preseason football poll

South Division

1. USC (32) 220

2. Arizona State (2) 181

3. Utah (4) 168

4. UCLA 109

5. Colorado 63

6. Arizona 57

North Division

1. Oregon (35) 222

2. California (3) 176

3. Washington 161

4. Stanford 105

5. Oregon State 76

6. Washington State 58

PAC-12 football championship game winner: Oregon (21 votes)

Others receiving votes: USC (15), Arizona State (1), Utah (1)

(Results based on points 6-5-4-3-2-1, with first-place votes in parentheses)