Memo to Bronco Mendenhall and Kyle Whittingham: You are not alone.
Say BYU and Utah had respectable seasons a year ago. Say the Utes had a chance for a Pac-12 South Division title and the Cougars won 10 games and ended up ranked. That’s respectable — nearly in the limelight.
Well, some of last year’s college football darlings, namely Oklahoma State, Arkansas and TCU, are also experiencing what some may called diminished seasons this time around in 2012.
While the Cougars have failed to gain a win over a ranked opponent or their rival Utah and stand 4-4, the Utes have lost every game since defeating BYU; they remain winless in the Pac-12 at 0-4 and are battling to earn bowl eligibility at 2-5.
But look at Oklahoma State, which got a taste of a BCS No. 3 ranking a year ago at 11-1 but are currently unranked at 4-2. OSU lost starting quarterback Wes Lunt (knee and ankle) Sept. 15. The Cowboys then had his replacement J.W. Walsh hurt (broken leg) on Saturday. Lunt may return and be back on the field this Saturday. Still, there’s no ranking for OSU’s wealthy booster T. Boone Pickens.
Look at TCU, which finished 11-2 last year but is now unranked, standing 5-2, 2-2 in the Big 12. The Frogs had starting quarterback Casey Pachall in rehab after an arrest for suspicion of driving while intoxicated after his fourth game this season. TCU was No. 1 nationally in defense in 2011 but lost to Texas Tech 56-53 in three overtimes last week and have dropped consecutive home games for the first time in 14 years.
Take a look at Arkansas, which ranked No. 6 in the final BCS standings a year ago with a 10-2 record. The Razorbacks were talking national championship this past offseason until coach Bobby Petrino got in a motorcycle accident. Then Petrino got fired after the incident brought questions about extramarital activities in which he lied to his bosses about his affair.
Arkansas then hired John L. Smith who’d taken a job at Weber State. His team promptly started 1-4 this season and now stands 3-4. But the kicker came this week when USA Today railed on Smith for saying his recruiting was going great. Wrote the newspaper’s college reporter: “It’s well-established that Smith is the most optimistic bankrupt interim coach in the history of college football, but come on.”
Now, some of this is comparing apples to oranges. But you get the idea.
BYU and Utah are not alone from frustration, quarterback revolving doors and other issues that kill records and damper enthusiasm. What these two locals need is consistency, an earmark for both most of the past decade.
Both schools’ issues center around one position — the QB spot.
Maybe a way to look at things is how both improve going forward. Both the Utes and Cougars enter easier parts of their schedules.
If they can't improve numbers the rest of the way, there are more serious issues on the table.
After the eighth week a year ago, the Cougars were 6-2 and on a five-game win streak. BYU ranked 58th in passing, 59th in rushing, 64th in total offense, and 72nd in scoring. After Week 8 this season, BYU is 76th in passing, 65th in rushing, 82nd in total offense and 87th in scoring. Yes, they’ve backtracked. But is BYU capable of pumping up those numbers and wins the rest of the way out against Georgia Tech, Idaho, San Jose State and New Mexico State?
It’s the same with Utah, who like BYU has had challenges with the offensive line and quarterback changes. And like BYU, the Utes have struggled on offense most of the season against good teams.
After Week 8 in 2011, Utah had a 3-4 record, ranked 104th in rushing, 93rd in passing, 108 in total offense and 72nd in scoring offense. This year after seven games the Utes rank 92nd in passing, 113th in rushing, 114th in total offense and 105th in scoring offense. That’s also a dip in the bell curve.
Can Utah ratchet up some better numbers against Cal, Washington State, Washington, Arizona and Colorado?
But the bottom line is this: Both Utah and BYU are not as good as a year ago, for almost the exact same reasons.
They are not alone.
Good programs trip.
Both have a lot of work to do.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.