Utah's Boylen gearing up for crucial year

When the expansion smoke cleared, Utah coach Jim Boylen emerged as a clear winner, having seen his program attain future membership into the Pac-10 while also gaining a great recruiting selling point for years to come.

Recruiting had already been going well enough. Five players alarmingly transferred out of the program because Boylen said some simply didn't fit, but then he was able to go out and get experience with the signings of four junior college transfers in April.

Point guard Josh Watkins headlines that group of JC players after choosing Utah over Cincinnati and Texas Tech, and they'll will arrive with the four high school players signed in the fall.

Entering his fourth season and coming off a 14-17 campaign, Boylen will bank on these players coming together to show that he can turn things around and lead Utah into its future with the Pac-10.

Salt Lake Tribune columnist Kurt Kragthorpe thinks it will be a big season for Boylen as well.

As encouraged as he is about the Utes’ joining the Pac-10 Conference and the enhanced recruiting possibilities the move brings, that creates an artificial deadline for Boylen. Even with three years remaining on the coach’s contract after next season, and with nearly every player returning, that would be a logical moment for athletic director Chris Hill to decide if Boylen really is the guy to take the Utes into the new league.

So the pressure is on in many ways. Even with a roster that will have only one senior and plenty of new pieces to put together. Even with four of Boylen's top five scorers having either left the program (Carlon Brown, Marshall Henderson) or graduated. Even with Mountain West Conference teams New Mexico, BYU, UNLV and San Diego State expecting to make return trips to the NCAAs.

Even after getting some time to bask in the glow of a power conference acceptance, Boylen will have much to prove with a team that's now definitively his own.