SALT LAKE CITY — He's been awful the last two games and had shaky moments in two others. His confidence is waning, his leadership in question. His team is on a two-game losing streak, its national presence gone.
On top of that, fans are starting to boo.
Now that the Utes' highest goals are essentially gone, what should they do about quarterback Jordan Wynn?
They should toss him the car keys.
What would benching him do at this point?
Accompanying the Utes' downfall has been the argument that coach Kyle Whittingham should go with backup Terrance Cain. The thinking is that since Cain is 9-1 as a starter, he has earned the right. Yet few would argue that Wynn is the more talented player. He has a stronger arm, and despite recent results, a better ability to move the team down field. While Cain has performed nicely as the backup, he lost the starting spot eight games into last season for a reason: He didn't score enough points.
Now the Utes are teetering and the cry has arisen to replace Wynn with Cain, almost exactly a year after replacing Cain with Wynn.
Here's an idea: How about replacing both with Peyton Manning?
In the absence of that, why not just make sure the Utes have a starting quarterback beyond the next three games?
Harsh as it sounds, there's not a lot the Utes can do about this year. League-leading TCU might lose its final conference game at New Mexico, which would give the Utes a chance to tie for the title. Right. And Obama might join the tea party. The Utes' most realistic hope is that TCU stays undefeated and goes to a BCS bowl, and the Utes win out, thus earning a Las Vegas Bowl invitation. But to do that, they need to figure out the quarterback situation. With games remaining against San Diego State and BYU, winning won't be easy.
Coach Kyle Whittingham has said he expects to start Wynn this Saturday, but also reiterated he's keeping his options open. He admits he considered changing quarterbacks during the TCU and Notre Dame games.
Fact is, the Utes got beat by a combined 75-10 in those games. Is Cain really 65 points better than Wynn? He's a senior, so starting him for two more regular-season games won't do much to help the Utes next year. They're already going to a minor bowl game, so does it really matter if it's Las Vegas or New Mexico?
Meanwhile, Wynn, a sophomore, could develop a raging case of insecurity that would affect him beyond this season. He has still started only 15 games with the Utes, winning 11.
While Cain is 9-1 as a starter, his wins haven't been against top-level teams: USU, San Jose State, Louisville, Colorado State, UNLV (twice), Air Force, Wyoming and New Mexico. It's true he beat UNLV and New Mexico this year (while Wynn was hurt), but so has everyone else this side of the Peace Corps.
Cain got help in 2009 from a fine defense that logged two safeties against USU. It took three field goals against Louisville for the Utes to prevail, and against UNLV, they got seven of their 35 points on an interception. Cain only engineered three points for the Utes against Wyoming in the first half last year before Wynn became the starter.
Cain was fine at managing the team but only so-so at finding the end zone.
Yet it has been Wynn's wobbly play that has raised the questions. He's been under-throwing receivers, forcing passes and generally acting like a sophomore. He tossed three interceptions against Wyoming, another against Air Force, and looked catatonic against TCU. Last Saturday at Notre Dame, he launched another interception — his seventh in five games — and again looked intimidated and unsure.
Nevertheless, Wynn is the Utes' future, not Cain. He was the Poinsettia Bowl MVP. Cain's averages are better this year (9.26 to 7.51 yards per pass), but when you're playing against UNLV and New Mexico, that's bound to happen. Until the past two weeks, Wynn was averaging 12.7 yards per attempt.
This obviously isn't the script Wynn — or the Utes — had in mind. This was supposed to be the season in which he grew into an NFL prospect. Instead, he has been on a steep slide. That's not all his fault. A spotty offensive line, dropped passes and an inconsistent running game haven't helped.
When Brian Johnson was a sophomore quarterback at Utah, the Utes went just 4-4 in conference (2005), yet he led them to an undefeated season in 2008. Wynn is 6-2 overall as a sophomore, 3-1 in conference.
While the temptation is to go with whichever quarterback can win soonest, there's no guarantee Cain could do that. Thus, Whittingham would be wise to stay the course. No use rearranging the seating when the Hindenburg is on fire.
These are games that will help Wynn grow. Bench him and the coaches will only have to rebuild his confidence next year.
That's not worth the risk, even for a trip to Vegas. Or in spite of it.