SALT LAKE CITY — On second thought, maybe the Pac-12 wasn't such a good idea.
A day after announcing next season's schedule, the Utes got a reality moment: Moving up could be painful. On Saturday, they trailed TCU 23-0 before they had found their parking spots. That would be the same TCU the Utes are leaving behind next year.
While TCU may not be joining the Pac-12, clearly there's heavy lifting ahead for the Utes. The Pac-10 has five teams that have been ranked this season: Arizona, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State and Southern Cal.
And the Utes thought the seasons were arduous now. Wait 'til next year, when there aren't any New Mexicos or UNLVs to abuse. That's not an original thought. But it wasn't so obvious until the Horned Frogs lowered the boom for the second year in a row.
The two-year aggregate: TCU 102, Utah 35.
That's not an outcome, it's an interment.
"Kind of a combustion, if you will," said Utah defensive end Christian Cox.
So here it is, a year after the first debacle against TCU, and little has changed. The Utes are still four to six touchdowns worse than the Horned Frogs. Although it's Utah that is moving to a BCS conference, Saturday's 47-7 outcome served as a reminder that life won't be easy in the fast lane.
The fuss over Utah going to the Pac-12 next year, followed by the 8-0 start this season, helped obscure a fairly simple truth: The Utes aren't all that good. They're fine, just not in a BCS bowl-type way. When you send six players to the NFL, you don't just proceed like nothing happened. Yet until Saturday, it seemed they might. One victim after another fell, some by shocking margins.
Against TCU, they barely moved past midfield.
Truth is, the Utes are neither as good as believed nor as bad as they looked. Still, the loss assigns them to afterthought perdition: good but not great, on the map but off the radar.
The game was set against the backdrop of Friday's announcement that the Utes' 2011 conference schedule was complete. In their initial season in the Pac-12, they'll play Washington, Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA and Colorado at home, and USC, Cal, Arizona and Washington State on the road.
Not to mention road games at Pitt and BYU.
On the bright side, they won't have to play TCU.
While it was argued that Saturday's contest was the biggest ever played within the Beehive State, it was hard to know beforehand how the teams would react. Would the Utes duplicate last year's embarrassing 55-28 loss?
"Gosh," said Ute coach Kyle Whittingham, this week, "last year we got off to a horrendous start, so we hope to avoid that."
TCU brought everything — its rushing game (192 yards), its passing game (381 yards) and its defensive game (two interceptions, one forced fumble). For an objective observer, it was inspiring and enlightening and hideous and perplexing all at once.
Yet if the Utes don't mess up, they'll still play in the Las Vegas Bowl, home of the Mountain West champ. It will be a lot like taking whichever cheap flight shows up, regardless of the destination: Not necessarily great, but it gets you out of the house.
It would be unwise to declare the Utes dead. They tend to come back right after the eulogy has been pronounced. There was the 2008 win over Louisville, following a loss to Oregon; the win over San Diego Sate last year, after the loss to TCU; the win in the Poinsettia Bowl after the loss to BYU.
In 2007, they won eight of nine after losing three of four.
That's the thing about Kyle Whittingham's teams — they usually refocus. To wit: They have won nine straight bowl games.
That didn't make them feel better Saturday following their worst home loss in 21 years. The outcome had TCU coach Gary Patterson waxing positively Hollywood, recalling how he showed film clips to motivate his team.46 comments on this story
Among the clips, a scene from "Tombstone."
"He's standing on the platform, Kurt Russell is, and he's got that shotgun," said Patterson, "and he said, 'You tell 'em I'm coming and I'm bringing Hell with me.' "
The Utes would do better with the scene from "Gone with the Wind": "Tomorrow's another day."