Three months ago, the 2012 Utah collegiate football campaign began with such promise, optimism and high hopes for success throughout the state.
Three months later, though, Utah State is the only school among the "Big Five" programs that actually lived up to or exceeded those lofty preseason expectations. Everywhere else, in Salt Lake City, Provo, Ogden and Cedar City, the 2012 season definitely went SOUTH — See Our Underachieving Teams Here.
Yeah, sure, a lot of schools (including at least three in the Beehive State) would envy Brigham Young University's 7-5 regular-season showing, with a Poinsettia Bowl game to go.
But with a balky offense that was bogged down by a nagging quarterback controversy and often betrayed a stellar defensive performance, the Cougars should've been much better than that.
It's not often that fans would sneer at a winning season and subsequent postseason bowl berth, but BYU's fans certainly should this year.
The QB conundrum called Riley Nelson wound up putting Cougars' head coach Bronco Mendenhall at odds with much of his fan base. To his credit, the gritty-and-always-game Nelson was willing to play hurt, but in the end that probably hurt his team's chances to win more ballgames.
BYU fans can't help but play the coulda-woulda-shoulda game, wondering whether narrow losses to Utah (24-21), Boise State (7-6), Notre Dame (17-14) and San Jose State (20-14) might've turned out differently if the tough-minded but banged-up Nelson would've stayed on the sidelines in favor of a healthy Taysom Hill or James Lark.
Heck, turn three or four of those defeats into victories and it could have transformed a slightly better than mediocre seven-win season into a great 10- or 11-win one. And Hill got needlessly injured, adding to the Cougar fans' angst.
But Bronco wouldn't budge on his decision to keep sending a less-than-100-percent Nelson out there, and BYU's record likely suffered for it.
Now they've gotta decide what to do in their bowl game against San Diego State, and the level of second-guessing of coach Mendenhall is off the charts. Still, as frustrating as BYU's season might've been, Utah's was considerably worse.
Indeed, a Utah team that was supposed to be a strong title contender in the Pac-12 South and was predicted to possibly win at least 9, 10 or 11 games had quarterback issues of its own — junior QB Jordan Wynn simply couldn't stay healthy and finally was forced to call it a career.
The Utes stumbled badly and wound up going just 3-6 in conference play and 5-7 overall. It was the Utes' first losing season since 2002 and also snapped their proud streak of nine straight bowl-game appearances.
Despite a vaunted defense, the Utes gave up 34 or more points to five Pac-12 opponents — Arizona State, USC, Washington, Arizona, and even against lowly Colorado, one of the worst offensive teams in America — although Utah's sputtering offense often contributed greatly to the Utes' defensive failures.
In the end, not even kickoff return specialist extraordinaire Reggie Dunn or running back John White IV, who notched a second straight 1,000-yard rushing season, could save Utah from a long winter of discontent.
Up in Ogden, Weber State started the season with seven straight losses after being picked in preseason polls to finish in the middle of the Big Sky Conference pack.
The Wildcats did win two of their final four games, with both victories coming on the road, to finish 2-6 in the Big Sky and 2-9 overall.
However, WSU officials saw enough positive signs in the program to remove the "interim" tag off head coach Jody Sears' job title and reward him with a new three-year contract to try and turn things around.
Down south in Cedar City, the Thunderbirds of Southern Utah actually had a pretty solid season in their first year as a Big Sky member.
They knocked off two of the league's top teams, Eastern Washington and Northern Arizona, and also beat perennial Big Sky power Montana — and at Missoula, Mont., no less.
But a somewhat inexplicable home-field loss to previously winless Weber State wound up preventing the T-Birds from having a winning season as they wound up 4-4 in the Big Sky and 5-6 overall.
Still, the future looks mighty bright for SUU football. Which brings us back to Logan, where the Aggies piled up a superb 10-win season, won the Western Athletic Conference championship and shoved their way into the national rankings — and prominence.
Heck, by making just a couple more field goals, Utah State could've very well finished a perfect 12-0 and been the toast of the entire college football world. As it is, they'll gladly settle for being the toast of Cache Valley and make their second straight trip to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
It seems like this team deserves better than another bowl game among those potato-loving folks in Boise, Idaho. But, up until a year ago, whoever thought we'd be saying that about the Utah State University football program?
Gary Andersen's coaching genius has resurrected this long-suffering school, which can definitely and proudly pound its chest as the best program in the state nowadays.
And they should be mighty glad that the Aggies, like so many of their instate counterparts, didn't go SOUTH in 2012.
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