For the final preliminary matchup of the West’s Best Bets, we are heading into the Rocky Mountains to visit the schools that make it as difficult to study for ski bums as the Southern California schools are for beach bums. This trip has me visiting Salt Lake City and the University of Utah. After our visit with the Utes, we travel to Boise, Idaho and check out the famed blue turf that the Broncos of Boise State University call home.
I leave the beautiful city of Boulder and make my way to Salt Lake City. The two newest additions to the Pacific 12 Conference are just over eight hours apart but there is no direct path between the two cities. I elect to take the northern route up to Cheyenne, Wyoming and travel across the desolate state until I reach “The Crossroads of the West.” Salt Lake City was founded in 1847 by Brigham Young and other Mormon followers. The University was started three years later in 1850 as the University of Deseret, the provisional name of the territory that included most of modern-day Utah and Nevada. The name was taken from the book of Mormon and means honeybee. The Beehive is the main image of the school’s seal and was renamed the University of Utah in 1892. Let’s see how they do in the rankings:
- Men’s Basketball – 27 tournament appearances including 12 out of fifteen years. 15 Sweet Sixteens, five Elite Eight appearances, four Final Fours and two National Championship games winning one. They also have 36 regular season championships and five Tournament Championships.
- Football – Bowl Record of 13-4 with nine consecutive victories. Ranked #2 on the AP Poll following the 2008 season. They have 24 Conference Titles in five conferences including two in the WAC and four in the Mountain West.
- Women’s Gymnastics – The “Red Rocks” team has 26 Regional Championships, 30 NCAA postseason appearances, 28 Super Six finals and 10 National Championships including six in a row.
- 22 Total National Championships
- Other National Championships – Skiing (11)
The University of Utah Men’s Basketball had a great run during the Rick Majerus era in the ‘90s and the early 2000s but failed to capitalize advancing twice beyond the Sweet Sixteen and their last National Championship was nearly 80 years ago. Their football team has an undefeated season and two top five finishes in the AP Poll. The absolute dominance of their women’s gymnastics team is the true star here with 10 National Championships and is the only team to qualify for every postseason tournament, for this I award the University of Utah22 out of a possible 30 points.
When I heard that Holly Rowe of ESPN attended the University of Utah, I thought to myself “Wow, this is going to be a tough one.” I knew that their gymnastics team was arguably one of the best in the country and I love bendy women, so I checked out their squad. A great combination of cute, “girl next door” types, but not any standout hot women. I suppose that the conservative upbringing of many Utah students and the cold weather makes the female population less likely to show off their talents while on campus. Former Miss Utah and No.4 finisher in Miss USA Laura Chukanov claims University of Utah alumni status. – 17 out of 25 possible points.
Local Bars & Pubs
I was a little leery about finding a good bar in the land of the Latter-Day Saints, better known as the Mormons. However, I was pleasantly surprised not only by the amount of bars in SLC, but the amount of local breweries and accessibility of great craft beer. I absolutely loved the Beerhive Pub on Main Street with one of the best beer selections I have seen in a while. If you are looking for the best place to cheer on the Utes or other sports teams, our best bet is going to be the Green Pig Pub. They have an upstairs patio that is nice in the summer, live music and the food is of the gastropub variety – 17 out of 20 possible points.
Perhaps the largest variance of temperatures of all the cities I have visited as of yet. Perhaps best known for its blustery winters given its proximity to seven world-class ski resorts, Salt Lake City has an actual summer with highs reaching into the 90s in July and August. A city that experiences a full four seasons and is well known for the litany of outdoor experiences waiting just outside the city limits. Snow is very common in Salt Lake City from mid-November to mid-March. If you are there in the summertime, it is heavenly, but snow for five straight months is not – 11 out of 15 possible points.
The University of Utah has a current enrollment of just under 31,000 students and is home to the states only accredited architecture program as well as the only medical school. They have been ranked No. 1 in “Generating Startup Companies” by AUTM and also the No. 1 University Health Care System by the UHC Consortium. U.S. News & World Report ranks 17 of their programs and colleges in the Top 50 in the nation. ARWU ranks the University of Utah at No. 47 while the London Times ranks them as no. 51 – 7 out of 10 possible points.
FINAL GRADE 74%
After visiting the Great Salt Lake, I leave the city of salt and head northbound into the great state of Idaho. Best known for producing potatoes and separatists, I was wondering if and how the two mixed. I jump on the I-15 out of SLC and connect to the I-84 and arrive in the “City of Trees” in less than six hours. Boise State University was opened in 1932 as Episcopal College and then gained independence as Boise College. After many decades as a junior college, it continually grew and began awarding baccalaureate degrees as a four-year institution in 1965. It was renamed Boise State College in 1969 and achieved University status in 1974 and is now the largest university in Idaho. Although not in the Pac-12 Conference, Boise State University earns a chance to battle in the West’s Best Bets, now onto the rankings:
- Football – Bowl Record of 8-4, one Junior College National Championship and one FCS National Championship. They claimed six Conference Titles in the Big Sky (FCS) before moving to the Big West winning two conference titles and eight in the WAC. Two perfect seasons finishing in the Top 5 of the AP & Coaches Polls.
- Men’s Basketball – 5 tournament appearances, 7 regular season championships in three conferences and 5 Tournament Championships in the Big Sky and WAC.
- Wrestling – 6 Pac-12 Conference Championships and two individual National Champions.
- 9 Total Individual National Champions
- Other National Champions (7) – Men’s Track and Field (5), Men’s Skiing (1), Women’s Track & Field (1).
Boise State University is a relative newcomer to the athletics scene with teams competing as a junior college for many years and 30+ years at the Division I-AA level. Since moving to Division I-A, their football team has made a splash going to 12 bowl games in its 15 years and finishing in the Top 10 four times as well as two undefeated seasons and one of my favorite games of all time – defeating Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. While football is important, their basketball teams are non-existent, they don’t have a baseball team and can only claim two team National Championships, in lesser conferences. For these reason, I award Boise State University 19 out of a possible 30 points.
Boise, Idaho and hot women, two things that rarely get spoken in the same sentence, so I was on a mission to see if there was a reason why. No reason, just not a lot going up here. The City of Boise barely cracks 205,000 in population and the school enrolls just over 23,000. Not really known as a destination university, Boise State is made up of 86 percent Idaho residents. The good news for the Idaho guys is that BSU is 55 percent female. Former Miss Idaho, Genevieve Nutting and current Seattle Sea Gal Cassie went to Boise St. and let’s not forget porn star, Tera Patrick – 16 out of 25 possible points.
Local Bars & Pubs
In the quaint town of Boise, Idaho, I was not expecting much beyond the realm of college bars and townie joints. Going into it with this state of mind, I wasn’t disappointed. My favorite place by a landslide was The Taphouse on Main St. This is a great place to watch the game with an extensive beer selection and better than average food. The Red Room is the perfect dive bar for live music and cheap beer – 15 out of 20 possible points.
At only 2,700 feet above sea level, Boise gets considerably hotter than Salt Lake City and summer highs reaching into the upper 90s and sometimes 100s. The winter is similar to that of SLC with snow and freezing temps from mid-November to mid-March but in considerably smaller amounts. The weather in Boise is nice for seven months out of the year and bearable for the other 5 – 12 out of 15 possible points.
Boise State is a great college for those Idaho students not looking to leave the area. The current student body includes 10 different Scholars, i.e. Rhodes, Truman. It has been listed twice in U.S. News & World Report’s list of “Top Up and Coming Schools” and ranked No. 67 in the West Region. They offer 5 doctoral degrees, 77 master’s degrees and 99 baccalaureate degrees. – 5 out of 10 possible points.
FINAL GRADE 67%
I think U.S. News & World Report said it best, Boise State University is an “Up & Coming School” it just isn’t there yet. The school has made great strides not only in its athletics, but also in it academics in the past 40 years offering only Associates’ degrees to now offering Ph.D.s. The University of Utah and Salt Lake City are major hubs of education and industry as well as being an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. The women and weather at both schools are suspect, but if you are looking for a great school when all the chips are down , the University of Utah wins out easily over Boise State University.