Utah Could Be a Threat in Pac-12 South With Healthy QB
The lack of continuity has made a huge impact on the program, as Utah has slowly declined from its remarkable undefeated (13-0) team in 2008 that featured one healthy quarterback in Brian Johnson.
Last season, we were able to catch a glance of Utah’s capability as a competitor in the Pac-12. Through Week 7, the Utes were 4-2, had beaten BYU and then-No. 5 Stanford, and lost to Oregon State and UCLA by a combined 10 points. Now-junior Travis Wilson was the starter for all six of those games and gave the offense a sense of consistency; an identity, if you will.
But when he went down with a season-ending concussion (that could hold him back from playing this fall), everything collapsed – Utah sputtered into the offseason with five losses in the latter half of its season, missing the postseason for a consecutive year and leaving us all wondering when this spell will be lifted.
“(Travis) was well on his way (to becoming a great quarterback) but he got hurt,” coach Whittingham told FanIQ during a phone interview last week. “We thought we had finally gotten over the hump and were ready to make a presence in the Pac-12, and then Travis gets hurt and we never recovered.
“It’s been since 2008 since we’ve had one quarterback play the entire season. College football is a quarterback-driven sport; we have to keep the quarterback healthy, and we’ve not been able to.”
Utah returns just 11 starters to the field (six offense, five defense), but brings back an experienced offensive line – led by 6-foot-6, 320-pound left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi – and what could be one of the conference’s best running back trio. Both units could mean the world for the confidence of a healthy Wilson.
There might not be a better opportunity for the Utes to make some noise in the South Division than what is waiting for them in 2014. They have been provided with home games against Washington State, USC, Oregon and Arizona (albeit road trips to UCLA, Oregon State, Arizona State, and Stanford), with winnable non-conference matchups versus Idaho State, Fresno State and Michigan.
Arizona State is attempting to replace some key departures on both sides of the ball and won’t be the same product, Arizona will be down and Colorado is improving, but still not in the same ball park. USC is extremely talented but in a new system, and the Bruins only beat Utah by seven in 2013.
“We knew when we were moving into the Pac-12 that it was going to be a big jump (from the Mountain West Conference). We’re still working into that process,” said Whittingham. “At the midway point (of the 2013 season) we felt pretty good and couldn’t sustain. We just have to compete week in and week out for 12 weeks.”
It’s not going to be easy, but Utah has the roster to compete at a high level. If Wilson is cleared before summer practice begins and can stay away from the doctor’s office, then the Utes have a strong chance to make a bowl appearance and knock off at least one Top-25 team.
And judging by their schedule, the Utes will have plenty of opportunities to do so.
*All quotes were obtained first hand.
Tyler Waddell is the College Football Blog Manager for FanIQ. Follow him on Twitter.