The state of Utah has raised its perception around the country the past three high school football seasons.
With a pile of impressive victories and even a few very respectable losses, a state with just 99 schools even fielding an 11-man high school football team, Utah is on the rise.
The state will be one of a handful that will not be represented when the RivalsHigh 100 begins its countdown on July 25. But don't be confused, Utah can still play football.
"I think it comes down to no lead dog," Bill Oram, a prep sports reporter with the Salt Lake Tribune, said. "But it might be a down year, too."
Over the last three seasons, the state has had five teams ranked in the RivalsHigh 100: Highland (Utah) Lone Peak; Provo (Utah) Timpview; Salt Lake City (Utah) Cottonwood; Sandy (Utah) Alta; and South Jordan (Utah) Bingham.
The most recognized of the group is Bingham, which ended last season at No. 10 - the first Top 10 finish for the state.
"Bingham made quite an impression against [Euless (Texas)] Trinity two years ago in Cowboys Stadium," Oram said. "Although the Miners lost by a couple of scores, it sounded like a lot of folks thought they were the better team and would have won on a neutral field."
Bingham finished the 2009 season ranked No. 30.
Utah Preseason Top 5
While the names remain the same atop the state rankings, the evaluation of those teams entering the 2011 football season appears to be lower than the norm. Here is a look at the preseason Top 5 teams in Utah.
No. 1 South Jordan Bingham
No. 2 Highland Lone Peak
No. 3 Provo Timpview
No. 4 Sandy Alta
No. 5 St. George Pine View
This year it will begin the season No. 1 in Utah, but out of the national rankings.
"In each of the years that Utah has had teams ranked, there were teams that were clearly stacked with returners," Oram said. "That's not the case right now, although you expect Bingham will find a way to fill every hole. We'll have a better idea a few weeks in, I think. By then you'll have a sense of who is capable of what."
The first test for the state will come when a trio of teams head to California to play in the Mission Viejo Classic against some of the traditional powers in that state.
"There have been some big out-of-state games, but the biggest, I think, will come this year when Timpview, Alta and Bingham all travel to SoCal for a jamboree there against some of that area's elite programs," Oram said. "Pick up a couple of wins in that and people think, damn, Utah."
Whether those wins occur or not is yet to be determined.
The impact of those games is also teetering.
Will losses by teams, that most consider to be down, hurt the growing momentum of the state?
"After the season Bingham had last year, it's hard to think the state hasn't turned the corner," Oram said. "The problem is sustaining that and upholding it on a regular basis. There is a smaller sample size to work with here: fewer classifications, teams, regions. Therefore, there are fewer programs capable of playing at a national caliber. We probably have the obvious three. If they all happen to have a down year, then there won't be any national rankings. Does that diminish the level of Utah football on the whole? Or, maybe a better question is this: How good is Utah football on a national level, really, if it has to rely on three schools to carry the reputation?"
Simple math would still point to Utah's upward movement. Even if the state is carried by three teams out of its 99, that is still the top three percent of its teams; the RivalsHigh 100 ranks just the top 0.7 percent of the more than 14,000 schools playing football across the country.
Sustainability is a problem for all programs regardless of location, but Oram points out that the trio of Bingham, Timpview and Alta all have done a masterful job keeping its programs at the top tier.
"The coaching in these programs is very good," he said. "We have what is called Ute Conference here - it's Pop Warner everywhere else. These guys breed young players for their programs. They teach the same offense from third grade through 12th."
That top tier, in a state like Utah, is more of a sliding scale nationally even for teams that have a proven track record.
And so for a state that has seemingly put itself on the map time and again, the fight for national respect begins anew.