SALT LAKE CITY — On June 17 of last year, Larry Scott stood on a podium on the fourth floor at Rice-Eccles Stadium and formally invited the University of Utah to join the newly formed Pac-12 Conference. Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011, it becomes a reality for Ute fans everywhere as Kyle Whittingham's football team will makes its inaugural appearance and christen the Pac-12 as it meets USC in the Los Angeles Coliseum. It will be the 10th meeting all time between the two schools, but never has there been more significance.
Saturday is a chance for Utah to make a statement to its new conference and the college football nation at large. The Utes have been seen by many as the "plan B" for Scott and the Pac-12. A nice fallback plan when the Texas and Oklahoma schools said, "no thanks" last year; a team that would add depth to a relatively shallow football conference, but not seen as a football elite. A win against the Trojans, the Pac-12's football flagship institution, would send a clear message to the college football community: Utah isn't just content being invited into the inner circle, it is here to compete and to win.
It sounds pretty good doesn't it? Well, if that is to happen, there is a lot of work to be done between last week and this week. Topping the list is the play of quarterback Jordan Wynn. His shoulder has been the subject of non-stop discussion among Ute fans the last nine months.
After watching him barely break the century mark passing in the opener last week, it's clear that something is amiss with the SoCal native. That something isn't in the shoulder, but rather between the ears right now.
Hearing from coaches, teammates and Wynn himself, he needs to find the "gun slinging" mentality that he brought to the position as a freshman. Sometimes finding the lost swagger can be tougher than rehabbing an injury, and that's what Wynn is finding out. The simple fact of the matter is that the Utes will go as Wynn goes. If the Utes are going to make a statement, they'll need to get a big day from No. 3.
You can talk about balance and running the football with John White and Harvey Langi, but without Wynn stretching the field and getting "chunks" against the SC defense, there won't be running lanes for the Utah backs.
There's an old saying that goes something like: "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." Utah's chance in front of a national television audience and more than 70,000 at the LA Coliseum comes Saturday afternoon. It's not the biggest or potentially even most important game on Utah's Pac-12 schedule, as USC is ineligible to win the South Division. But it is the first game, and it's against the team that is the measuring stick for excellence, past and present, in the Pac-12. While they won't say it publicly, the Utes have had this one circled on the calendar since the schedule was announced. I can tell you that the team is ready for its Pac-12 baptism, but to make a statement Saturday, the Utes are going to need a total team effort — most importantly the return of swagger to Jordan Wynn.
Bill Riley can be heard as the radio voice of the University of Utah on game days and also on weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the "Bill and Spence Show" on ESPN Radio 700 AM.