Since replacing Urban Meyer in 2005, Whittingham has watched over the Utah football program as it's been consistently decent, but never great. Each year marked a better win total than the last, but they ultimately ended the same way: with no championship. Will this be the year that changes? Well if you listen to Utah football players, it's definitely an issue they've thought long and hard about.
In this article by the Salt Lake Tribune, the players, and even coaches, announce they are tired with 7, 8 and 9-win seasons and are ready to take it to the next level. Utah quarterback Brian Johnson told the Tribune, "This team is tired of under-achieving. We are tired of seven, eight, nine-win seasons. We have the talent to do better than that and we realize it's up to us."
Now comes the hard part, actually doing something about it. I mean, we've been here before, the past two years, in fact, and the results haven't really changed. Yes Utah had a better overall season in 2007 than any other in Whittingham's short career, but it still hasn't lowered the concerns about the ever growing gap between Urban Meyer's 2004 team and where Utah currently is today. The fact is, at this level, conference championships are the biggest indicator of real success and without that prestige, Utah will continue being a decent, but flawed program.
Luckily for Whittingham and the Utes, taking the next step should be seamless, at least on paper. Utah definitely had a solid run last year, proving they can sustain success long enough to get through a season with a fairly solid winning streak. And with a few breaks, especially at the end of both the Air Force and BYU games, they are looking at a conference championship. Of course, it will take perfecting luck to make that needed step, but it can be done and I believe Whittingham has laid the foundation for such a step this season.
But Utah enters this season knowing they're good. In fact, they're not flying nearly under the radar like they were at this time last year. People expect to contend for the championship and maybe even make a BCS run if they get past Michigan in the first game. The last time Utah faced such expectations, prior to the 2005 and 2006 seasons, they stumbled out of the gate and nearly lost their footing entirely before strongly rebounding toward the end of the season. Thankfully, Utah lucks out with a rather easy first few weeks. Even if they lose to Michigan, they have probable wins against UNLV, Utah State and Weber State. Then a home showdown with Oregon State, which very well could be a victory. That positions Utah for a solid start out of the gate, which hasn't happened the first three years of Whittingham's career here.
For Whittingham and Utah to get to the next level, they're going to have to treat every game like they're playing Michigan. If they do that, there is enough talent for this team to make the needed steps. Maybe this year they finally realize this and it isn't just fall talk.