View from the Booth: After two eye-opening Pac-12 seasons, Utes must improve talent level
It seems to just go faster and faster every season. Of course, I'm talking about the speed with which the college football season comes and goes.
For the Utes, the season ended more abruptly than ever during the last decade, with a losing record and no bowl game. By just about all accounts, this was a disappointing season for Utah football, as preseason expectations were for the Utes to challenge in the Pac-12 South.
Utah's season was likely doomed before things began going awry in late September. It began with yet another shoulder injury to Jordan Wynn, but even before that the Utes had issues along their offensive line during fall camp. Brian Johnson and Dan Finn did their best to cover up those problems, but they were never truly fixed.
One other problem area stood out to me this season while covering this team, and it was an area that was thought to be perhaps a strength: the linebackers. Utah's lack of depth and experience, plus key injuries at that position, turned out to be a hole in the middle of Kalani Sitake's defense.
The simple fact of the matter is that Utah's overall talent base isn't quite up to Pac-12 standards. Many people (myself included) underestimated the difficulty of this year's conference schedule and the impact that new coaches would make in the Pac-12 South.
This Utah football team was talented enough to compete, but the margin for error was so slim that anything short of a clean game was going to make winning difficult. Kyle Whittingham addressed the talent issue a number of times in recent weeks by saying he and his staff need to continue to recruit better talent and find more "impact" players on both sides of the ball.
Utah has recruited well in recent years. In fact, according to the experts, Utah had perhaps its best recruiting class ever a year ago. The Utes are on track to have another good class this year. They must.
Last year's class produced potential stars in Jeremiah Poutasi and Travis Wilson, who already made an impact this season. Both were highly touted out of high school, but neither started immediately. When given the opportunity, however, both players performed very well and will be key figures in the team's future success. Look for Poutasi to move to left tackle next season to protect Wilson's blind side.
As for Wilson, as I wrote in this space a week ago, his development and ability to take the next step will be the biggest key to a successful Utah program season next year. The simplest explanation for the Utes' on-field struggles over the last two seasons has been the instability and lack of Pac-12 talent at the quarterback position. Wilson appears to possess the right physical and mental skill set for a Pac-12 QB — now he has to go out and prove it.
Seven starts is a good beginning, but he'll have to be better next year than his 3-4 record as a starter this season.
The Utes' first two seasons in their new conference home were an eye-opener for many. Now it's incumbent on Whittingham and his staff to find the right talent and put that talent together on the field in season three. The price of poker has gone up drastically for Utah football. Now let's see how they play the hands they've been dealt.
Bill Riley is the co-host of the Bill and Hans Show weekdays from 2-6 p.m on ESPN 700 AM. You can follow Bill on Twitter @espn700bill.
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