View from the Booth: 1st Pac-12 season was educational
It's hard to believe that the college football regular season is over for the University of Utah. Honestly, where does time go?
It seems like just the other day we were discussing the Montana State Bobcats. Is there a more anticipated, yet far too short, time of the year than football season? We build it up for eight-and-a-half months every year and it's over before you know it.
Utah has completed its first season in the Pac-12 and BCS/"Big Boy" football. I think it would be fair to say that the season didn't exactly play out the way many thought it might — I'm not talking about strictly wins and losses.
It was a roller-coaster-like season for Utah football, but one that likely taught a number of lessons. Here are three key lessons learned after the first year of Pac-12 play.
Lesson No. 1: You better have a quarterback or two ready to play if you want to compete in the Pac-12. We knew heading into the season that Jordan Wynn was Plan A, B and C this season for the Utes. Keeping Wynn healthy was the key for any big success in Utah's first Pac-12 season.
After an injury scare in the BYU game, Utes fans' worst fears were realized late in the first half against Washington. At that moment everything changed for the Utes, because they simply didn't have a competent backup in the program ready to go. Look around the league, just about every school in the Pac-12 has multiple options ready to go if their starter goes down.
Look for better options next season with Wynn hopeful for a return, plus highly touted recruits Travis Wilson, Chase Hansen, Tyler Shreve and Jon Hays all in the mix at the QB spot for Utah.
Lesson No. 2: Utah needs more and better athletes. As I called games week-in and week-out with Frank Dolce and Sharrieff Shah, what became apparent was the high level of athletes and skill guys — and the number of them — at every school. Whether it was a wide receiver, offensive line or just about any other position on the field, Utah had good players, but not always elite players. With the exception of defensive line or secondary, the Utes will need a talent and depth upgrade across the board moving forward. The good news is that Utah has a good start on the recruiting front already. The staff knows the challenges that lie in front of them and is up for the task of what needs to be done. In addition, the turnover on multiple coaching staffs in the Pac-12 combined with the stability at Utah should help a great deal in recruiting right now.
Lesson No. 3: There are no off weeks in the Pac-12. We need to look no further than last Friday afternoon. The worst road team in college football over the last four years walked into Rice-Eccles Stadium and outplayed a Utah team with everything to play for. The week before it took Utah overtime to beat one of the worst programs over the last five years in the Pac-12.
Bottom line: You have to bring it every week when you play with the big boys. The Utes learned that lesson the hard way, by missing out on playing in the Pac-12 title game against Oregon.
I thought before the season began that the Utes had a reasonable shot at a 9-3 season with the major sticking point being a HEALTHY Wynn. Clearly Wynn wasn't able to stay healthy and the Utes finished at 7-5. Consider this an educational season in Pac-12 football. Let's hope the lessons were well-learned and applied moving forward.
We should find out this weekend where Kyle Whittingham's guys are playing this postseason. Most projections have the Utes in El Paso on New Year's Eve against either Georgia Tech or Virginia. The Sun Bowl certainly isn't San Diego or San Antonio, but the money and exposure will be better than anything that Utah would have had prior to the Pac-12.
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