Utah celebrates entry into Pac-12

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Utes are BCS busters no more.

A celebration at the state Capitol marked Utah's transition Friday from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12, one of the six BCS conferences. Nearly 2,000 people gathered to listen to Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott and a host of other dignitaries.

Scott said Utah, which was the first non-BCS school to play in a BCS bowl game, brings a healthy combination of academic and athletic success to make the school a perfect fit in the league.

"They're very competitive across the board right away," Scott said. "They've certainly demonstrated that in football. They've got a pretty impressive record in terms of BCS games and their success in bowls."

Utah athletic director Chris Hill said he was thrilled the Utes would no longer be straddling two conferences, as they have done for the past year since accepting an invitation to join the Pac-12. Hill said the Utes look forward to facing the challenges ahead.

"We don't want to talk about not winning," Hill said. "What we want to talk about is competing so our fans can be proud of us. We're not afraid of the high expectations. It's not easy, but at the same time our fans expect us to do well."

Headlining Hill's agenda are projects designed to upgrade existing athletic facilities so they're comparable to those found at other Pac-12 schools.

It begins with a renovation of the team's existing football center scheduled to start in December.

Other potential upgrades, including an expansion of the seating capacity at Rice-Eccles Stadium, are a few years away while Utah must wait three more seasons before gaining a full share of television revenue as a conference member.

Hill acknowledged the transition will be tough at first but he's optimistic about the long-term benefits the change will bring.

"We didn't win a game today, but I feel like we won our future at the University of Utah," Hill said.

Coaches and players are eager to prove themselves against Pac-12 competition now.

"I think the whole country is kind of wondering how we'll be able to handle it," Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn said. "We just got to go out and play."