SALT LAKE CITY — How can it be that the season Ute fans waited for the longest and anticipated the most flew by so quickly?
It seems like just the other day, I was at Universal Studios in Southern California talking with all the coaches and key players from around the Pac-12 about expectations for the upcoming season. Now, here we sit in late November with just one game remaining in the Utes' season.
This one hasn't gone exactly as Ute fans and Kyle Whittingham expected back in August. Instead of contending for the Pac-12 South title, Utah finds itself on the outside of the postseason for the first time in a decade. The last time it happened was at the end of the Ron McBride Era at Utah.
Now in its second season in the Pac-12, Utah football must figure out how to compete at the next level. The last time Utah missed the postseason, a new coach came to town and immediately reenergized the program and the fan base. Urban Meyer made Utah football a national brand for his short two years in Salt Lake City.
Now Whittingham and his staff must figure out how to make Utah football more than just competitive in the Conference of Champions.
How daunting is the task? Depends on how you view things.
Three schools in the Pac-12 South hired new head coaches after last season, and all three programs already appear on the upswing. Only newcomers Utah and Colorado appear to be struggling to find themselves in their new digs.
USC finds itself in a down year, too, but the talent on the Trojans' roster is outstanding and should allow them to compete moving forward.
So how does Utah elevate itself to compete with the UCLAs and Arizona States of its world? The easy answer, of course, is to recruit better talent. If you talk to Whittingham and his staff, they will tell you that the efforts on that front have been fruitful this season; in fact, their recruiting class is nearly complete.
It's very apparent to most who follow Utah football and have for a while that the level of talent in the program is very good by Utah standards; the key moving forward has to be to make it by Pac-12 standards. It appears to be moving in that direction.
I think the biggest solution to what has ailed the Utes for the last couple of seasons is already in the program — and his name is Travis Wilson. In my opinion, the issue that has most affected the success of Utah football over the last two seasons has been consistency and quality at the quarterback position. When you are unsettled at QB, it impacts your entire team.
In Wilson, Utah has a quarterback who appears to possess all of the qualities necessary to be a successful Pac-12 field general. Wilson will enter next season with 12 games and seven Pac-12 starts to his credit. There won't be anything that he hasn't seen. Look no further than UCLA's Brett Hundley or Arizona State's Taylor Kelly as guys who blossomed in their second season in the Pac-12. Wilson will have more experience than both of them heading into his sophomore season.
So as you watch the Utes close out their season Friday in Boulder against the Buffs, take one more look at No. 7 for Utah and know that the immediate future and any Pac-12 success likely rests squarely on his shoulders.
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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