Jazzy’s “What if…?” post this morning got me thinking about another what-if scenario: What if the Utes had actually beaten TCU on November 6th, 2010, instead of laying an egg? These two teams had been on a collision course all year long, and many thought this would be the season we’d bust into the BCS again. But as we found out so cruelly, we weren’t as good as we thought we were. That game was tough for Ute fans—especially for those of us in attendance. The Utes were never in that game; TCU throttled us from the opening kickoff and never let up. But what if the game had turned out differently? What if Utah had gotten a few lucky bounces to keep the game close and ultimately win? What would have happened throughout the rest of the season? What would a victory have meant for the future of Utah football? Let’s explore those questions.
November 6th, 2010. TCU vs. Utah. Rice-Eccles Stadium. Many people, including the College GameDay analysts present at RES, expect this game between the fourth-ranked TCU and the sixth-ranked Utah to be the biggest game in MWC history—and it lives up to the hype. The Horned Frogs, led by Andy Dalton, open up the scoring with a methodic 80-yard, 14-play touchdown drive. Utah answers right back with a 45-yard strike from Jordan Wynn to DeVonte Christopher. Halfway through the first quarter, the Utes and Horned Frogs are knotted at 7-7. On their next possession, the Frogs score a field goal to go up 10-7. On the first play of the Utes’ next offensive drive, RB Eddie Wide fumbles and TCU takes possession at the Utes’ 30-yard line. The Frogs score three plays later, and they look set to take control of the game. But after a tough start, the Utah defense tightens up and holds the Frogs scoreless through the second quarter. The score at the half: 17-7 for TCU.
The roughly 46,000 Ute fans at RES explode at the start of the second half as Shaky Smithson returns the opening kickoff 95 yards to the house. The Utes cut the deficit to three points, 17-14. But the Frogs march right back down the field and score another field goal. Jordan Wynn struggles in the third period against TCU’s stingy defense, but the Utes manage to score a field goal just before the close of the period—20-17 TCU.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Utah’s defense answers the bell again and holds Andy Dalton and the TCU offense to a three-and-out. With the ruckus RES crowd behind them, the Utes’ offense pounds the ball against the TCU defense, but the eight-minute, 70-yard drive stalls on the three-yard line. Utah is forced to kick a field goal to tie the game. TCU counters with an impressive four-minute drive, but the Utes’ defense holds and TCU lines up for a field goal. After a five-yard penalty for too many men on the field, TCU attempts a 33-yard field goal.
Fans of both Utah and TCU are reminded of the ’08 game, because the Frogs’ kicker misses the field goal to the left. Utah takes over at their own 20-yard line with 2:15 left on the clock.
Jordan Wynn dinks-and-dunks the Utes’ offense to the Frogs’ 45-yard line, but after an incomplete pass on first down and a sack on second down for a five-yard loss, the Utes are faced with third-and-long on third down with :45 left on the clock. Upon receiving the snap, Wynn is pressured immediately. He flushes to his right, directing traffic with his left hand. Finally, just as TCU linebacker Tank Carter is about to lay the pine on Wynn, he heaves the ball downfield. The ball flutters through the air and into traffic and—it’s intercepted.
But there’s a flag on the field.
TCU is called for defensive pass interference.
Utah is still alive on its own 35-yard line with just under 30 seconds left to play. But the Utes are out of timeouts. After a five-yard pass to Luke Matthews, Wynn spikes the ball on second down with :16 left on the clock to bring up third-and-five at the TCU 30-yard line. The Frogs’ defense pressures Wynn right off the snap again and he’s forced to roll to his left. Wynn is running out of options and the seconds are melting off the clock. Just as he’s about the scramble out of bounds, he completes a beautifully placed pass—the pass of his career—to Reggie Dunn along the sideline at the TCU 25. Dunn picks up five more yards before a TCU defender shoves him out of bounds, stopping the clock at :05. Utah lines up for a 37-yard field goal at the left hash mark.
TCU is out of timeouts as well, so they can’t ice the kicker. Ute fans everywhere hold their collective breath. The snap is good, the hold is clean, and the kick is solid. It has the distance, but it’s drifting right. After the ball hangs in the air for what seems an eternity, it strikes the right upright—and bounces in. The clock expires. RES is a frenzy.
In the biggest game of MWC history—and possibly of Utah history—the Utes win, 23-20. It took a bit of luck, but the Utes answered every punch that TCU threw, and it’s a win nonetheless.
When the polls come out the next day, Utah is ranked third in the nation. TCU falls out of the top-ten.
The next week, the Utes travel to South Bend, Indiana, to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. In a wet, sloppy game, the confident Utes grind out a win against a decent Irish squad, 16-6. The Utes remain at number three in the rankings.
The Utes play at San Diego State the following week, and despite a poor first half from the Utah defense against a very good Aztec offense, the Utes pull away in the second half and win emphatically, 56-31. With the victory, the Utes clinch the MWC. BCS dreams have never been brighter.
When the Utes return to Rice-Eccles Stadium for the last Holy War as a member of the MWC, the team is flying high. They face a stumbling BYU squad that has lost its last two games against Colorado State and New Mexico. The game is over before halftime, and the Utes roll to a 54-10 victory (the first win in a series of victories over BYU by, coincidentally, the same exact score).
The Utes finish the regular season ranked third in the nation. Oregon is set to play in the National Championship, so Utah accepts an invitation to play in the Rose Bowl against a tough 11-2 Wisconsin team. The game is hard-fought, and the Utes put up a valiant effort, but the Utah defense is no match for Wisconsin’s powerful RB duo of Montee Ball and John Clay. The Badgers win, 24-14.
The Utes leave the MWC and join the new Pac-12 for the 2011 season. Ranked eighth in the preseason polls, this Utah squad is thought to be the best in school history, led by a healthy Jordan Wynn, newcomer sensation John White III, and a supremely stout defense. The Utes open the season with a swift dispatching of FCS powerhouse Montana State, 63-7.
The next week, Utah squeaks by a challenging USC squad in the first-ever Pac-12 game by the score of 16-14. The Utes jump up four spots in the polls.
After dismantling BYU the following week in Provo to the tune of 54-10, the Utes defeat the Washington Huskies 28-13 in the first Pac-12 game at RES. The game sets a RES record for attendance. At 4-0, the Utes are now ranked second in the nation.
The Arizona State Sun Devils arrive in Salt Lake City the following week, also undefeated and ranked 20th. The Utes stumble early and fall behind by two touchdowns at halftime, but the offense surges in the second half, the defense holds Brock Osweiler and the ASU offense scoreless, and the Utes prevail 38-28.
The Utes then win their next five games—against Pitt, Cal, Oregon State, Arizona, and UCLA, respectively—with relative ease, but they drop to third in the rankings behind Oregon and Alabama.
In an ugly game at Washington State the following week, the Utes pick up another W, defeating the Cougars 21-17. The ugly victory drops the Utes to fourth in the polls. The next week, the Utes close out the regular season at RES against the Colorado Buffaloes. Having already clinched a birth in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game, the Utes sit their starters midway through the second quarter with a 24-0 lead over the Buffs. Colorado makes it a game in the second half, but the Utes’ reserves hang on to preserve a 34-23 victory.
The undefeated Utes meet the undefeated Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship Game at Autzen Stadium the following week. Utah matches Oregon score-for-score through the first two quarters, but the Ducks’ high-flying offense proves to be too much for the Utes to handle in the second half. The Ducks pull away to win, 41-31.
At 12-1 and the Pac-12 runner-up, the Utes accept an invitation to play in the Rose Bowl for a second straight year. Utah faces Wisconsin yet again, and this year the Utes exact revenge, beating the Badgers in overtime, 34-31. Jordan Wynn is named the MVP, having completed 25 of 33 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns. At the trophy presentation ceremony, Wynn bids farewell to Utah fans and says he intends to represent the U well at the NFL Draft.
In 2012, the Utes are loaded with talent at the offensive skill positions. Utah intends to start a true freshman, Travis Wilson, at quarterback, and the defense is young, but hopes are high yet again among Utah Ute faithful.