Monday, August 5, 2013
Best case-worst case: Utah
By Ted Miller
This is the fourth 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).
Up next: Utah
Bodies lay strewn across the floor of MUSS's -- "Mighty Utah Student Section" -- headquarters in a penthouse overlooking the Utah campus. The central meeting room is filled with many leather-bound books and smells of rich mahogany, but there's also a staleness rising from the hardwood floors. There's a flicker of movement. And a groan.
"Aagghhh," says the MUSS president. "A losing season!"
He hugs a commemorative ball from the 2004 Fiesta Bowl to his chest.
Across the room, the MUSS vice president crawls toward the bathroom. A moment later, she screams, "Aagghhh… there's a Duck and Tree in the bathroom!"
Another scream, this one from the other side of the room. "Aagghhh…" exclaims the MUSS secretary. "Our Ute mojo is gone!"
"Aaagghhh," says the MUSS president. "All is lost. We are nothing more than a... than a... a... Mountain West team!"
He throws the ball across the room, where it knocks over an Urban Meyer bust.
"That's not how you do it," a mellifluous yet authoritative voice says. "You should throw it straight. Step into it."
"What seems to be the problem?"
"I'm afraid! All right? If you want to hear me say. You want to break me down? All right, I'm afraid," the MUSS president says. "For the first time in my life, I'm afraid. The Pac-12 is just too hard! Those wins while we were a Mountain West team? They weren't real!"
Pac-12 blog: You wanna tell me that those games weren't real, that you were carried? Well I don't believe it! But it doesn't matter what I believe because you're the one that's got to carry that fear around inside you, afraid that your going to be a Pac-12 patsy and afraid that you're going to be remembered as a mid-major only elevated because Texas wanted too much from Larry Scott, that you're not an elite team anymore. Well, none of it's true! But it doesn't matter if I tell you. It doesn't matter, because you're the one that's gotta settle it.
MUSS president: How did you get so tough?
Pac-12 blog: I married a woman from Alabama.
MUSS president: We beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl!
Utah whips Utah State and Weber State, then falls to No. 20 Oregon State. Travis Wilson throws four touchdown passes in a 35-20 win over BYU, the Utes' fourth consecutive win in the Holy War.
UCLA, however, pounds the Utes 33-17. Headline in Salt Lake Tribune: "Utah still not ready to compete in the Pac-12 South Division."
Up next: No. 3 Stanford.
MUSS VP: It's suicide! You've seen Stanford. You know how strong they are… you can't win!
Utah DE Trevor Reilly: Oh, MUSS VP. MUSS VP always tells the truth. No, maybe I can't win. Maybe the only thing I can do is just take everything Stanford's got. But to beat me, the Cardinal is going to have to run the ball consistently. And to run the ball consistently, Stanford is gonna have to have the heart to stand in front of me. And to do that, Stanford has got to be willing to die. I don't know if Stanford is ready to do that.
MUSS VP: That last part was a little over the top.
Wilson, playing the best game of his career, throws four long touchdown passes against the rugged Stanford defense, while his counterpart Kevin Hogan turns in his worst career effort with three picks. Still, with 20 seconds left and Utah up 34-30, Stanford faces a fourth and 1 on the Utes' 10-yard line.
Stanford OG David Yankey: I must break you.
Utah DT Tenny Palepoi: Dolph? Is that you? Yanks, did you know Dolph Lundgren went to Washington State, and is therefore a Coug? Dated Grace Jones. Think about her during this play.
Announcer: Palepoi just blew by what appeared to be a distracted Yankey and stopped Anthony Wilkerson for no gain! Utah upsets the Cardinal!
The Utes nip Arizona but fall to USC. They come back home and, after a bye, upset No. 12 Arizona State, with a raucous MUSS causing the Sun Devils' offensive line to jump offsides five times.
Utah then makes the trip to No. 2 Oregon.
The Utes lead 24-22 when Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldonado lines up for a 59-yard field goal with two seconds left.
MUSS secretary: This guy never makes a big kick.
MUSS vice president: Aagghhh! You haven't read your "A Fans' Guide to Sporting Karma!"
Right down the middle. Ducks win.
"It never feels good to lose," Utes coach Kyle Whittingham says. "But I think there's no residual doubt that we can compete in the Pac-12."
The Utes roll past Washington State and Colorado to finish the regular season 8-4. They whip Texas 35-20 in the Holiday Bowl.
Bryan Mone and Isaiah Nacua switched their commitments from Michigan and BYU, respectively, and sign with the Utes, as does tight end Dalton Schultz.
Pac-12 Blog readers meet at their annual convention at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. After 36 holes at Shadow Creek, the MUSS president takes the podium.
"During this season, I've seen a lot of changing, in the way you feel about Utah, and in the way we feel about you," he says. "I guess what I'm trying to say, is that if the Utes can change, and the Pac-12 can change, everybody can change!"
He's greeted by loud applause. Even from Oregon fans.
A late field goal gives Utah a win over Utah State, and the Utes blow out Weber State.
Ted Miller: A 2-0 start is good for the Utes, but we don't really know them yet.
Kevin Gemmell: Correct. Over the next eight games, they play seven top-25 sort of teams, including Stanford and Oregon, which Utah didn't play its first two years of Pac-12 membership.
Miller: While they are playing those games, we can sing, "Getting to know you... getting to know alllll about you." You know, from "The King and I."
The Utes fall 24-17 to Oregon State and then commit four turnovers in a 30-20 loss at BYU.
"A few years ago, our former quarterback Max Hall called the Utes 'classless'," Cougars QB Taysom Hill says after the game. "Not a great moment in this great rivalry, one that Utah is running away from for a couple of years. But the good news is the Utes will run away from playing BYU with class.
"Mostly because we just took them to school!"
(Block U will later pay tribute to Hill's quote as "The funniest thing anyone from BYU has ever said.")
After a bye week, Utah leads UCLA in the fourth quarter but Bruins QB Brett Hundley throws a pair of late TD passes for the win.
"I think we're close," Whittingham says.
No. 3 Stanford holds the Utes to 87 total yards in a 24-3 victory, then Utah goes down at Arizona and USC.
"Well, not that close," Whittingham says.
After another off week, Utah is slammed by No. 12 Arizona State and No. 2 Oregon, which rolls up 546 yards in front of a dispirited MUSS.
MUSS president: I am dispirited.
MUSS VP: Me too.
MUSS president: Being in the Pac-12 was supposed to be more fun.
Gemmell: Utah has lost seven games in a row. The defense, without Star Lotulelei in the middle, is getting pushed around, and the addition of co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson hasn't yielded much in the way of improvement. The question is can the Utes win a Pac-12 game this year. Probably not against Mike Leach's rejuvenated Washington State Cougars. The good news is the season finale with Colorado might provide a small bump for the offseason.
Miller: [Cackling] No... I see things going differently!
Utah, as the only Pac-12 team not bothered by Pullman weather, nips Washington State 10-9 in blizzard-like conditions.
Up next: Arch-rival Colorado.
"Aagghhh," says Whittingham. "This means I'll get asked about the Red Bike Incident again."
Reporter: Coach Whittingham, in the storied history of this rivalry, the greatest controversy seems to be the Red Bike Incident. Could you talk about your perspective on what happened?
Whittingham: No. [Whittingham then affixes a menacing stare at an extremely good looking and well-dressed reporter].
Miller: Oh... OK. No more red bike incident after this "Best case-worst case" post.
A 53-yard field goal in overtime gives the Buffaloes their only Pac-12 win of the season. The Utes finish 3-9, their worst record since 1986 under Jim Fassel.
Whittingham is hired by the Dallas Cowboys.
"Because the program so much feels like it did when he left in 1989, we're bringing back Jim Fassel!" athletic director Chris Hill says.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, after an emergency meeting with his presidents and athletic directors, announces that Utah will now be written in all official Pac-12 materials in a smaller type face -- two points smaller, officially -- until it posts a winning record in conference play.
"Aaagghhh," says the MUSS president.
BYU joins the Big 12. The Great Salt Lake loses its salinity.
Previous "Best case-worst case" posts