I'll admit that I can be pretty negative, but I'm also someone with high expectations for this football program. Now that does not mean I expect 12-0 every year. But what I do expect is a competent, consistent team that competes every week (the 3 Cs). So far this season, we've only seen a variation of competence, while being deprived of consistency and a team that competes weekly. For a variety of reasons, the Utes just have not been able to build on any victory and now it's time that they do. There should be no excuses with a healthy Brian Johnson and a solid running game forming and if Kyle Whittingham is a very good coach -- like some of his supporters suggest -- then he will be able to finish this season strong. That is not raising the bar to unreachable heights and anyone that believes this must also believe the program is void of talent, since it would mean the Utes lack the talent needed to defeat most of the remaining teams on their schedule.
With Brian Johnson returning, playing pretty good against Louisville and a defense that has been better than expected, Utah should rightfully be favored in most of their next six games. Looking at each game individually should paint a better picture of what the expectations should really be for this Utah team in the second half. I know I already suggested Utah would flop, but those predictions were based on coaching futility and not talent. If Whittingham is as good of coach as some would have us believe, then those predictions will not come true. In fact, Whittingham should have no difficulty getting Utah to 8 or more wins, even with the poor start they got off to this season. If he is what I've suggested in the past, then I expect Utah to struggle throughout. They will probably win games they really aren't expected to win, while losing games everyone expects them to win.
Utah's first test comes against San Diego State Saturday. This is an opponent that has done nothing in football since the 1970s and one Utah has, with all things considered, struggled against. The Aztecs defeated Utah in their last trip to Salt Lake and have given Utah some close games over the years. But they're not as talented and I don't even think they're better coached than the Utes. On talent alone, Utah should win, but as was proven against UNLV, that can't be expected. That means the team will need to be motivated and that rests on the coaches shoulders.
After the Aztecs comes another tough road game for Utah, this time TCU. This is one of those games that could go either way and with the way TCU is playing, Utah should at least keep it competitive. I don't want to say they will win it, but I would be thoroughly disappointed if they failed to show up. This is one of those games where a loss wouldn't be devastating, yet I still think Utah can win.
While I would love for Utah to beat TCU, I think it's imperative that they beat Colorado State the next week. This is shaping up to be the worst Rams team in Sonny Lubick's career and this is a trap game if Utah does somehow beat TCU. It's a road game against an opponent that has struggled and one that Utah should easily defeat. But, like UNLV, that doesn't guarantee them a victory. If Utah can follow up a TCU win with a CSU victory, I will feel a whole lot better about this coaching staff than I currently do. They drop this game after a week of beating TCU, and I think it will show us that even with talent, the coaches just aren't consistent enough to make this program an elite one.
Then comes the final stretch for Utah. They have two home games and a tough roadie against BYU. In all reality, I think Utah should beat both Wyoming and New Mexico. While both those games are going to be tough with how well those teams are playing, a loss to either is really inexcusable. I say this because Wyoming has not proven to be a decent team on the road, barely defeating Ohio a couple weeks ago and New Mexico lost their conference opener against BYU at home. If the Cougars are capable of beating New Mexico on the road, Utah should beat them at home. Forget the history, because it doesn't mean squat. If Whittingham is a good coach, he won't fall to 0-3 lifetime against the Lobos.
That brings Utah into the Holy War and possibly with an 8-3 record. Like every year, outside of 2004, this will most likely be a very competitive game with neither team blowing the other out. Nothing less should be expected from this Utah team and a loss would really sting. But we don't know how good BYU will be by then. They could very well enter the game at 9-2 like they did last year. Or they could come in with a worse record than the Utes. Whatever happens, I do think the Utes should strive to beat the Cougars every year. Another loss, even on the road, will be impossible to swallow. But if the Utes go down like they did last year, and finish the season with 9-wins, I will be deeply impressed with Whittingham's leadership. If they lose admirably, yet sit at 6-6, or 7-5, I will be less than excited about Whittingham's leadership.
My expectations are high because I'm being told by a heap of people that Whittingham is actually a great coach. Well this is his time to prove that he is, in fact, a great coach. That means no embarrassing losses in the second half of the season and no more losses to teams Utah should beat. That's hard to ask, but I think the Utes have blown through their bad losses allotment for the year already. That means Utah wins the rest of their home games, defeats CSU and then hopefully sweeps TCU and BYU, or at least splits those games. If they do, I'll be the first to say give Coach Whittingham a contract extention.
So are my expectations too high for Whittingham to reach? Let me know what you think and what your expectations are for the second half. Remember, this isn't based on coaching, rather talent alone. If Utah has the coaches, like some have said (namely those in the media), then that, along with talent, should be enough to get Utah to 8 or 9 wins in the regular season.