Tuesday, Nov. 22nd 2016 – By Tom Hackett
The rise of the University of Utah football program since joining the Pac-12 has been remarkable, from Mountain West bullies they have evolved into Pac-12 warriors. However, they have never been able to clinch the Pac-12 South Division title despite being in contention for the ownership 3 out of the 6 years. Why has Utah failed to win games late in the season when so much is on the line? Why does all the hard work in the offseason always seem to lead us to the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl? Nothing against the Vegas Bowl of course, its just…we want more.
Throughout the year, from roughly January through to August, while the rest of America is enjoying a peaceful (hopefully) first half of the year, the Utah football team is destroying themselves in the weight room and on the track, running around like headless chickens. Life as a student athlete is not easy, you wake up early, sweat a lot, fall asleep in class, struggle with your homework at night because of the whole falling asleep in class notion and ultimately fall asleep later than you had hoped due to the homework difficulty. However, the theme throughout the 4 seasons I was within the program was reoccurring, win the Pac-12 South. We failed.
In 2011, 2015 and 2016 Utah had the ability to control their own destiny, meaning, if they win out, they win the Pac-12 South. In 2011 we lost to Colorado in the last game of the regular season, only needing a win against a Buffs team that had not won away from home in 23 straight games. In 2015 Utah had back-to-back chances to get a win against the Arizona Wildcats away from home followed by the UCLA Bruins the week after. For me, the Arizona game was particularly hard to swallow, heading into triple overtime against a QB that was 3rd on the depth chart you would almost put your house on Utah winning that game. Of course, a perfectly thrown pass by a QB that wore gloves, and a remarkable catch led to Utah losing that game. UCLA was not as easy, Josh Rosen, when playing, will always cause potential problems for Utah’s defense, and ultimately he did just that. In 2016 the Oregon Ducks came into Rice Eccles Stadium with a desolate record of just 3-7 on the year, essentially they had nothing to play for besides revenge from the year before. Win or lose they will not be going to a bowl game yet Utah is playing for the Pac-12 South. Guess what, Utah lose with 2 seconds left on the clock, with a perfect back corner pass by a true freshman QB and a catch that left Utah fans wishing the end zone was half an inch shorter.
Questions are starting to arise as too why Utah cannot close out seasons that, at the end of the day, don’t seem too hard to close out. What makes this even more bittersweet is that if Colorado beats Utah this upcoming weekend, they will be the Pac-12 South Division champions. You read that correctly.
Utah struggles to secure top end recruits, often relying on developing 2/3 star players into potential game changers. Has the ceiling been set for the current roster? Does it take more 4/5 star recruits to win a division title? Or is it the offseason program? I wonder if the coaching staff really understands the stress and pain that the continuous workouts have on the players. Joe Williams had to quit the team for a month to recover from constant body cramps and soreness, surely that was an eye opener! Or is it the in-season program that just mentally drains these kids? I mean the week does start at 6.30am on Monday morning for film and ends at 5am on Sunday morning when you are getting in bed after the plane flight from an away game. Your weekend consists of about 24 hours, and is Sunday even part of the weekend in Utah? The majority of the state and football team attends church for hours on end.
The bottom line is that Utah has the opportunity to end the regular season with a 9-3 record; a feat very few other programs have the ability of doing. However, as impressive as that is, the way in which Utah crumbled to Oregon in week 11 will remain prominent in the minds of fans, players and coaches until next years journey embarks. Changes need to be made, a bigger emphasis on rest and recovery may help, or an offense that doesn’t rely on its defense and special teams to win football games for them. Utah needs to be known as a school that wins championships as frequently as they win Ray Guy Awards…
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