If I were a top football recruit coming out of the state of Utah and had narrowed my choices to BYU, Utah, and Washington, what points would most influence me about those three options?
BYU--PLUSSES: Church school; lots of kids who believe like me (if LDS). Great academic environment. Very supportive if I desire to serve a mission. Play a great schedule of schools in a bunch of different conferences all over the country. On TV (mostly ESPN family) every week no matter where friends and family live. Probably get early playing time. Get QB that will get me the ball. Close to home. Strong family connections to BYU. Get to wear BYU Blue!
MINUSES: Recent on-field performance. Honor code (for non-LDS or less-committed LDS). Indy (no conference championship to play for, perceived as less than P5).
UTAH--PLUSSES: Plays in P12. Fair academics. Close to home. No HC. Fair TV access, but not as good as BYU. Supportive of players desiring to serve mission. Questionable whether QB or offense will be as good as BYU's. Family connections to Utah also. Perception that Utah is better coached than BYU.
MINUSES: No significant minuses other than it's Utah, which should automatically disqualify them for consideration (TIC). Have to red that ugly red!
WASHINGTON--PLUSSES: P12 powerhouse. Decent academics. Good location. Fair TV access; better than Utah, but not as good as BYU. Great coaching. Good offense and defense. May not get significant PT as early as at either Utah or BYU. No HC. Big stage for a guy with a big ego.
MINUSES: Not close to home. Not the best looking uniforms. Not much else negative.
Based on my admittedly biased analysis above, I can see where a player would choose another school over BYU because of some of the perceived minuses. But I have a very difficult time seeing why someone would choose Utah over Washington unless they really wanted to play close to home. In my opinion, that's the only plus that Utah would have over Washington.
Some of the perceived negatives that BYU has (HC, Indy), may never be overcome, which does limit their recruiting pool. However, as their on-the-field performance improves over the next several years, I see BYU doing better and better in some of these head-to-head recruiting competitions with the Utes and a few other schools. If BYU can restore some kind of national relevance, I don't think the lack of a conference affiliation will be nearly as important. The HC will always be there, however, and that will certain disqualify BYU from consideration by some talented recruits.