SALT LAKE CITY — It’s dark a lot sooner nowadays, the temperatures chillier.
And that’s just inside the Ute football offices.
The Utes should be used to this by now, seeing how it’s an annual occurrence. The main difference is that this year they’re having their November in October.
Utah is 0-3 this month, with losses to Stanford, USC and Arizona State.
Give Kyle Whittingham credit for putting out a bowl-worthy team most years. There was a two-year dip early in the Pac-12 era, but since then his teams have won nine games twice and 10 games once. He has only missed bowl games twice as a head coach. That success is now shaky after three consecutive conference losses.
For a variety of reasons, November treats the Utes like an unwanted guest. In 2011, Utah had the chance to play in the conference championship game. But it lost to Colorado on the last weekend of the regular season.
The next year there were no such stirrings. The Utes lost two of four November games en route to a 5-7 season. In 2013, they were just 1-3 in November, rendering meaningless a win over Colorado in the last game.
The 2014 Utes did go 3-1 in November, but a loss at home to Arizona killed their title hopes. Back-to-back losses to Arizona and UCLA in 2015 also sank their hopes,. The Utes went 1-2 during turkey month last year, losing to Oregon and Colorado. Had they won those, they would have claimed the South Division.
It’s not like the Utes haven’t had help. Last season, perennial favorite USC started out 0-2 in conference play, and UCLA lost four consecutive league games. Utah tied for the division title in 2015, but lost on a tiebreaker.
Opportunity has been there in November, but the Utes haven’t.
Is it fair to say there are more questions than answers this year?
“That,” Whittingham said, “is a relative question. I think in some sense yes, in some sense no.”
And in some sense, Utah should go to an 11-month calendar. Once December rolls around, it’s a different story. The Utes are 12-2 in December since 1994. But just like numerous retail stores, they’d rather skip Thanksgiving and go straight to Christmas.
Injuries have played a part in much of the drama, but that happens to everyone. Not having a consistently good quarterback is unarguable. Still, if those were insurmountable problems, they wouldn’t play so well in December.
The outlook for a great November this year isn’t likely for Utah. After meeting Oregon on Saturday, the Utes move into the 11th month, which includes home games against UCLA, Washington State and Colorado and a road game at Washington.
If Utah has a normal November, this season will end up as interesting as an infomercial.
Quarterback inconsistency will, as always, take center stage. Troy Williams is a good backup in the Pac-12, but not terribly effective. Last Saturday, Tyler Huntley was cleared to play after missing 2½ games with an injury. But being cleared to play and being in the clear are different things.
“Tyler is our guy and will continue to be our guy,” Whittingham said.
Utah’s defense usually keeps the Utes in games, but it isn’t blameless. Though Arizona State gained a moderate 345 yards on Saturday, a lot were on important running plays. ASU converted half its third-down conversions and doubled the Utes’ rushing total.
Four interceptions by the Sun Devils took care of the rest.Comment on this story
Whittingham agrees his team is at a low point, and that his offense lacks identity. Utah gained just 265 yards against ASU, the fewest since a 197-yard output in the 2015 Las Vegas Bowl.
Last time Utah got fewer total yards in a regular-season game was against Arizona State, on Nov. 1, 2014.
“Not a lot of positives from our game on Saturday,” Whittingham said.
Washington State and Washington are likely losses next month, with UCLA iffy. Only Colorado seems a likely win. But that’s assuming the Utes don’t lose more players to injury, or succumb to discouragement.
For some people, Christmas can never come too soon.