It was a loss. It was a painful loss. But in the Utes' blowout-turned-competitive-turned-heartbreak defeat to the Trojans only two games into the 2011 season, the program proved it was ready for the Pac-12. Sure, struggle and adversity would follow, but when you take a team like USC to the wire, position yourself to win late in the fourth quarter, all the while doing it on the road, you've got to at least leave with some confidence. They did. A week later, Utah would rock BYU and seemingly appeared poised for a huge inaugural Pac-12 season.
That didn't happen. But coming out of that USC game, even in defeat, I felt more optimistic about this program than I did at any point, sans maybe the Iowa State victory, in 2010. That was a huge step for a team that had absolutely wilted on the big stage (TCU '09, TCU '10, Notre Dame '10, BSU '10). While they didn't win, and at times played poorly enough to get blown out, their fight, taking the Trojans' best hit and bouncing back, left me positively giddy about the potential of last year's team.
Unfortunately, that potential was never reached. Three weeks later, in their second Pac-12 game ever, the Utes lost Jordan Wynn and, at the time it appeared, the season. But, even with a gimpy quarterback, for a bit in September, Utah looked legitimate. They looked like a real Pac-12 team. Yes, it would take a while to get back to that level (almost the entire season), but we saw, even if briefly, what this team could do. And as we now enter a new season, the hope is that what happened in Los Angeles early in the '11 season can again happen this year - but with more consistency and a far more healthy quarterback.
That latter point is probably the biggest because who knows what Utah could've done if Wynn could, you know, actually throw the ball five yards. His passes gave new definition to the term wounded duck and yet, he still nearly led the Utes to a victory - or at least a tie in regulation.
Hopefully this year he can get some umph under the ball and who knows, with more depth, more talent, more experience, and a partisan home crowd, this year's Utah team can maybe finish what last year's started against the Trojans.