- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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On Oct. 1, Utah went into the halftime locker room trailing Washington 10-7, kicking itself for a pair of red-zone turnovers.
Quarterback Jordan Wynn walked into the locker room with two thoughts. First of all, he felt like he was throwing like his old self for the first time all season with a surgically-repaired right shoulder. Second, there was something wrong with his other, non-throwing shoulder.
Wynn couldn't play in the second half, and the Utes got rolled 31-14 in front of a stunned crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Wynn's season was done and he would again undergo shoulder surgery.
"I think I was pretty close [to 100 percent], but looking back on it, with the injury I had and surgery I had, it takes time," Wynn said. "I was just starting to feel like I was getting back to my old ways, especially the first half of the Washington game. That might have been one of the better halves of my career."
And when Wynn went down, many saw the Utes' season as doomed. Instead, with Nebraska-Omaha transfer Jon Hays managing a run-first offense that leaned heavily on a tough defense, the Utes nearly stole the South Division crown in their first year of Pac-12 play.
It's fair to ask what might have happened if Wynn had stayed healthy and continued to recover his form from late 2009 and most of 2010. Note that from Oct. 31, 2009 to Oct. 30, 2010, Wynn was 12-2 as a starter, including a dynamic performance in a 2009 Poinsettia Bowl win against California as a true freshman.
Many expect USC to run away with the Pac-12 South Division. Heck, many see the Trojans playing for the 2012 national title.
But what about Utah? Recall that the Utes, in the waning moments of the fourth quarter, lined up for a 41-yard field goal to tie the Trojans in the Coliseum last September (it was blocked and returned for a TD). Sure, USC hadn't really found the mojo at that point that would propel it into the top-five by season's end, but neither had Wynn or the Utes.
If you want to know a game that could have huge Pac-12 and national title implications in 2012 that not many folks are talking about, look no further than USC's visit to Salt Lake City on Oct. 4 a Thursday night matchup on ESPN.
"It will definitely be interesting," Wynn said. "It was a tough game last year. We came one or two plays short of stealing that thing away."
Of course, there's a lot to do between now and then. The prime objective for Wynn: Stay healthy. And No. 2 is to find a comfort level with his fourth offensive coordinator (Dave Schramm, Aaron Roderick, Norm Chow and now Brian Johnson). Johnson, who just turned 25, is the youngest coordinator in FBS football.
"It's definitely a different dynamic from him to coach Chow [who will turn 66 in May]," Wynn said. "He understands first hand what it's like to be a 21- or 22-year-old in college, and kind of what goes on. It's good for off-the-field stuff. He's easy to relate to."
There's been plenty of speculation about what the switch from Chow to Johnson will mean. Johnson ran a spread-option when he was the Utes QB from 2005-2008, which Chow changed to a pro-style attack during his one-year tenure before becoming Hawaii's coach. While Wynn expects some tweaks here's a guess that Johnson got the job partly because his suggestions of tweaks intrigued head coach Kyle Whittingham he doesn't expect dramatic changes.
Read: Him running an option.
"I don't think it's going to be too much different," Wynn said. "He's tweaking stuff here and there, but we're going to keep somewhat of a pro-style system. ... I'm not really known as a runner. To this point, there really aren't any designed runs for me in the offense. I would imagine there probably won't be. But we'll see."
Wynn said both shoulders "feel great." He said he's been working out since December and throwing at 100 percent since January. He also said the frustrations of the past two years have helped him grow.
And, yeah, he's looked around. He sees the pieces coming back on both sides of the ball. This is a talented team with plenty of experience. The idea that his health is the critical cornerstone is not something he embraces or says himself, but he's aware that more than a few folks already are putting it atop their analysis of the Utes in 2012.
"If people want to say it lies on me, that's fine, he said. "If you look at any great college team, they usually have great quarterback play."
It's fair to say that speculating on potential endgames in 2012 for the Utes gets far more optimistic if Wynn starts all 12 games.