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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said this has been the "most frustrating" season he's had in his eight years as top man.

BOULDER, Colo. — Kyle Whittingham doesn't mince any words when it comes to his first losing season as head coach of the Utah Utes. For obvious reasons, it's been a challenge.

"Without a doubt," Whittingham said as the Utes (4-7) prepared for Friday's season finale at Colorado (1-10).

Putting the gear away this early isn't sitting well with the head of a program accustomed to winning and making bowl appearances.

"Most frustrating, most difficult, most trying. All the above," Whittingham said in describing a season that ended Utah's run of nine consecutive campaigns with more wins than losses, including the last seven under his helm.

"It's a challenging profession. There's no doubt about it," Whittingham acknowledged. "You know that going in. It's not always going to be just how you like it and so it'll test you. But we'll be all right. I'm very confident in the long run we're going to be just fine."

Adjusting to life in the Pac-12 has been difficult. Utah is just 6-11 in conference games since joining the league.

To better compete, Whittingham said the Utes need improved consistency on offense and more takeaways on defense. The latter, he explained, affects the former.

"A big part of the game is takeaways and setting up your offense on short fields," Whittingham said. "And we did not do that at all this year."

As for the offense, Whittingham believes that strides are being made as Travis Wilson settles in as the starting quarterback. He noted that experience the true freshman has gained this season would be invaluable in the future.

"It'll help tremendously. That's always something that is a vital part of your team is your quarterback situation," Whittingham said. "We need to establish some continuity at that position. That's been one of our main issues the last couple of years, is the lack of continuity at the quarterback position and that will help us if we can establish that."

Whittingham added that progress is also being made in terms of building depth and continuing to bring more impact-type players into the mix.

"We've got a lot of good players in the program but we need to continue to add to that," he said.

Moving forward in other ways, though, won't be as smooth without bowl practices. Whittingham said it's a big deal.

"Not going to a bowl game — it's a disappointment on a lot of different levels and that being one of the primary ones," Whittingham explained while noting that bowl practices were like having an extra spring ball for the younger players. "So that's something that we're going to have to try to compensate for by getting in the weight room right away. We'll be in the weight room (Monday) with the returners and getting back after it. So we'll do our best to make good use of the time but it's still not as productive as being able to practice."

The coaching staff, meanwhile, will fly out Sunday evening to recruit. They'll be out on the road for much of the next three weeks.

Before doing so, however, the Utes have business to take care of in Boulder. Whittingham said the message to the players has been finishing the season off right, especially for the seniors.

"We have one more opportunity to send them out on a positive note at the very culmination of the season and that is the major objective," he explained.

Winning games, Whittingham acknowledged, makes everything better.

"It's a bottom-line business and you are what your records says you are and right now we're not very good. So that's the most frustrating aspect of it," Whittingham said. "Then the things you deal with and the problems that occur during the season, that's all part of it as well."

The main issue, he continued, is the win and loss record.

A 5-7 finish keeps slim bowl hopes alive. That and a qualifying Academic Progress Report rating could land the Utes a berth if the nation's 70 bowl slots are not filled. A four-win season, though, would be a first for Utah since 2000.

Whittingham's record

Year conf. overall bowl game

2004 0-0 1-0 Fiesta (W)

2005 4-4 7-5 Emerald (W)

2006 5-3 8-5 Armed Forces (W)

2007 5-3 9-4 Poinsettia (W)

2008 8-0 13-0 Sugar (W)

2009 6-2 10-3 Poinsettia (W)

2010 7-1 10-3 Las Vegas (L)

2011 4-5 * 8-5 Sun (W)

2012 2-6 * 4-7 none

* Pac-12Utes on the air

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