Think back to the summer of 2006 and the moment Kyle Whittingham proclaimed Utah had the best quarterback situation in the country. At the time, it didn't seem like an exaggeration. Brett Ratliff had led the Utes to two improbable wins at the end of the 2005 season and looked damn near flawless in both victories. Fighting with him for the starting spot was Oklahoma transfer Tommy Grady - an elite player when signed out of high school by the Sooners.
On paper, the Utes looked about as stacked as any team could be. Unfortunately, underneath the surface, things weren't nearly as solid for the Utes. This would become painfully obvious as the 2006 season progressed and Utah limped to a rather forgettable 8-5 record.
Now it's the summer of 2009, three years later, and the Utes once again find themselves involved in a quarterback battle. How will this be different than in 2006 and should we expect some of the same issues that ultimately stemmed from that battle?
Well firstly, Whittingham's biggest flaw that season was building up this supposed battle. He made every Ute fan (and many in the media) believe the Utes were set no matter what. This was not true. The Utes had other issues that seemed to be glossed over during that camp because much of the focus was on the two quarterbacks duking it out for the starting spot.
We all know Ratliff came out of camp the starter and Grady was designated his backup. Brian Johnson, who became a dark horse candidate toward the end of camp, redshirted.
But what became clear during the season was not that Ratliff didn't have the smarts and ability to run Utah's offense, he lacked the weapons necessary to make it consistent enough to compete. Everyone seemed to forget Utah had to go out and find a suitable replacement for its 1,000 yard rusher Quinton Ganther - as he graduated at the end of the 2005 season.
In the end, that job went to Darryl Poston, but it certainly wasn't settled once camp ended. Poston turned out to not be as reliable as many Ute fans had hoped and faded at certain times in the season, especially in key games. Once Utah brought out the Weddle Option, things opened up a bit and the Utes finished the season with a huge victory on the road against the Air Force Falcons, nearly stunned a ranked BYU team and then easily defeated Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl.
The problem with the 2006 season was not necessarily their issues at quarterback, rather their issues at running back. Poston, who the Utes relied on most of the season to run the ball, never had a game where he ran for 100 or more yards. His highest total was 72, which he reached twice (in wins over Northern Arizona and UNLV).
Because of this, it became far easier to stop Utah's offense and that was a big reason they lost some key games. It might sound cliched now, but you do need a good running game to set up a passing game. That just wasn't something Utah could consistently do in 2006.
As the Utes enter the 2009 season, even with questions surrounding the quarterback position, one thing is settled and that's the running game. We know what they return and it played a huge role in 2008's perfect season. Matt Asiata is an established offensive weapon that surely will prove to be an asset to a growing quarterback - something Ratliff did not have. Surely this will make the transition better than three years ago.