Monday, August 27, 2012
Best case-worst case: Utah
By Ted Miller
This is the ninth in a series looking at potential dream and nightmare scenarios for all Pac-12 teams.
Understand: These are not predictions. They are extreme scenarios and pieces of fiction. You can read last year's versions here.
We're going in reverse order of my post-spring power rankings (which might not be identical to my preseason power rankings).
You can see previous best case-worst case posts here.
Up next: Utah
Utah struggles to put Utah State away, but a pair of TD runs from John White IV give the Utes the 2-0 start everyone expected.
"I'm not happy," coach Kyle Whittingham says. "As noted above, we struggled to put the Aggies away. I don't care what everyone expected, we can't play like this and expect to beat BYU."
Tensions are high with the Holy War. Folks around the state are unhappy that Utah has opted to take a two-year hiatus from the rivalry, starting in 2014.
An alien from the planet Zumba Ho! named Fistlebicker arrives in Salt Lake City. After dinner at the Red Iguana, he shows up in Utah athletic director Chris Hill's office.
"Er, you're green and have a horn growing out of your forehead," Hill says. "That's OK, though. Just an observation."
Fistlebicker shoots Hill with a "Truth Ray." Then asks about the brief suspension of the Holy War. Hill's impulse for a political answer is overcome by the ray.
"I'm weary of the prattle from the BYU folks," Hill says. "Look, we're in the Pac-12. We make the rules. End of story. BYU long thought of itself as a sort of big brother in this rivalry. No more. We do home-and-home series with teams like Michigan. A long gulp from the cup of humility will be good for BYU."
Utah buries BYU 52-17.
Utah improves to 4-0 with a 33-24 win at Arizona State and rises to 13th in the AP poll. It has a bye before top-ranked USC comes to town for a Thursday night game on ESPN.
The MUSS, Utah's football student section, calls a meeting in its new headquarters, opened shortly after the Utes joined the Pac-12. It is filled with many leather-bound books and smells of rich mahogany. The bar features the finest selection of single malts in all of Salt Lake City.
MUSS president: So everyone brought their new MacBook Pro, right? Remember: Don't tell you friends at BYU that everyone in the Pac-12 gets a MacBook Pro.
MUSS vice president: Or the free ice cream. Don't tell them about that either.
MUSS president: Right. So, I've sent each of you our plan for USC and Matt Barkley?
MUSS vice president: Brain control? No more mind control, eh?
MUSS president: Yep. Brain control beats mind control any day of the week.
"Barkley is not himself tonight, throwing his first two interceptions of the season," the announcer says. "The MUSS is all over the Trojans, who have jumped offsides four times."
With seven seconds remaining, the Utes face a fourth and goal on the Trojans 9-yard line, down 28-24. QB Jordan Wynn drops back, but is immediately under pressure, he spins, reverses field, then reverses field again. He sees some daylight between T.J. McDonald and DeVonte Christopher. From his 25-yard line, he fires a throw
"Touchdown!" the announcer says. "The Utes have upset No. 1 USC. Wow. That was a bullet. Wynn's surgically repaired shoulder looked good there."
The Utes, after rising to No. 5 in the nation, suffer a proverbial "let-down game" the following weekend at UCLA, losing 20-17. They win their next three before losing in overtime at Washington. After a victory at Arizona, the 9-2 Utes rise to 11th in the AP poll.
Up next: Archrival Colorado.
"This red bike thing you guys keep asking me about?" Whittingham says. "You know that was made up, right? The Pac-12 blog made it up. It never happened. It was amusing, yes. Brilliant even. But it was fiction."
Whittingham is met with silence and crestfallen looks from the media contingent.
Says Colorado offensive tackle David Bakhtiari, "I don't know what's worse: Whittingham saying something on the Pac-12 blog was fiction or him doubting the truth of the 'Red Bike Incident.' I've seen the red bike. And it isn't pretty."
Nonetheless, the Utes prevail 33-24.
"Star," Whittingham says to defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. "I just talked to Coach Embree. It seems his starting QB, Jordan Webb, is missing."
"Mmftphfa?" says Lotulelei.
"Star, you know you can't eat the opposing QB," Whittingham says.
"Meph mungry," Lotulelei says. "Meh morry."
Utah beats Texas in the Alamo Bowl 21-17. It finishes 11-2 and ranked eighth.
The postseason media consensus is Utah looks like the 2013 favorite in the South Division.
MUSS president: OK guys, couple of things. These are your Pac-12 Diamond Cards. You flash these and you won't have to stand in line or wait for a reservation anywhere.
MUSS vice president: And automatic first class upgrades for air travel and hotel suites. Now what is this doohickey?
MUSS president: Every Pac-12 member gets a time machine, which is cool.
MUSS vice president: That is cool! And, of course, you can't tell your friend at BYU about these.
Just as Utah embarrassed BYU at home in 2011, the Cougars return the favor in 2012. And, with the Utes putting the Holy War on a two -year hiatus starting in 2014, it seems a 50-21 win in Rice-Eccles Stadium is particularly sweet.
"Is this particularly sweet?" BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall asks. "Maybe."
The Utes fall the next weekend at Arizona State, 27-24, with QB Jordan Wynn throwing a late interception on the Sun Devils 31-yard line. After a bye, USC rips the Utes 45-17, sacking Wynn five times.
The Utes are unable to get John White IV going and protection for Wynn has been terrible. Questions at offensive tackle obviously didn't get answered. On defense, inexperience at linebacker is showing, but the lack of a pass rush is most surprising.
UCLA slips the Utes after Brett Hundley leads a game-winning TD drive in the waning moments. Utah ends a four-game losing streak with a win at Oregon State, and Whittingham reminds his team it opened the 2011 Pac-12 season at 0-4. But California pulls away from the Utes in the second half to win 33-21.
Utah is competitive for the most part, but it still lacks the depth and variety of offensive weapons to consistently win against Pac-12 foes. The Utes nip Washington State at home, 35-33, but fall at Washington 28-20. A win over Arizona leaves Utah, at 5-6, needing to beat hated archrival Colorado to earn bowl eligibility. Same thing for the Buffaloes.
Utah, down 17-13 with 1:30 left, drives to the Buffs 17-yard line. On first down, Wynn underthrows a wide-open DeVonte Christopher in the endzone.
"As has been the case all season, Wynn's ability to deliver the ball has been inconsistent," the announcer says. "The key here is to not force things."
On second down, Wynn sees Dres Anderson at the 5-yard line, but his pass sails off target and is intercepted by Ray Polk, who high steps down the sideline for a 95-yard touchdown as the Folsom Stadium crowd goes nuts.
The Utes finish 5-7, their first losing record since 2002.
"It's pretty clear that we are still a work in progress as far as making the jump from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham says.
BYU, which goes 3-0 vs. the Pac-12 and finishes 12-1, is invited to join the SEC after the Cougars beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
"Oh, OK," BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe says. "If you twist my arm, we'll take that ole $25 million."