LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 10: Jordan Wynn #3 of the Utah Utes makes a pass as he rolls out of the pocket against the USC Trojans during the second quarter at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 10, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
We don't do things simple here at Utah. We like to take the rugged path instead of the easy one and it has caused a great deal of heartburn over the years.
To get a sense of what I really mean, just re-watch key games from the 2008 season. A lot of 'em were ugly. A few of 'em came down to one or two plays - games that very well could have ended any chance at a perfect season.
If 2004 was a cakewalk for Utah, 2008 was more like a 5K across hot coals. It wasn't easy and it left you sweatin' up until the very end. I don't think anyone exhaled that season until the final seconds ticked off the clock against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the '09 Sugar Bowl.
There was rarely anything smooth about that season and, really, subsequent seasons if you think about it. It hasn't been simple at Utah since their '09 Sugar Bowl victory and it certainly didn't act as a launching pad to national dominance for the program like maybe we had hoped. The learning and rebuilding that came out of that season has been challenging and, at times, a bit depressing.
We saw a quarterback switch a little over midway through the 2009 season that led to renewed hopes of a quick return, only to watch, after a spectacular start in 2010, that it was all too fleeting when things came crashing down. Last season saw similar struggle and a mirroring of disappointment.
Of course, Utah's winning eight games wasn't a disappointment or a surprise. We knew the possibility of an 8-5 season was high and in fact, I'm guessing that's what a great deal of fans expected. However, the Utes' path to eight wins last season was not easy and about as difficult as one could have ever expected. There was the Wynn injury, four consecutive losses to start conference play - three of which were blowouts - and a team that seemed destined, nay, doomed, to a losing record. It didn't happen. Maybe it was by the Grace of God they found the will to somehow bounce back from their near-crippling conference start, but even when things started going their way - the four straight wins, USC being ineligible to win the division, Arizona State's collapse that allowed Utah a chance back into the Pac-12 South race - they still mucked it up at the end with a loss to Colorado.
Winning that game and playing for the Pac-12 title that way would have been too easy. It would have been too simple for Utah. And let's be honest, while they technically would have deserved it, would it have felt like they really did deserve it?
I don't know about that.
Like I said, we don't do things simple here.
It's not that I think they purposely do this, at least most of the time. It wasn't like the coaches anticipated Wynn's injury potential back when they recruited him or even during the 2010 season and I'm sure they would have accepted a spot in the Pac-12 title game, regardless if they really deserved it, than losing, at home, to a 2-10 Colorado squad that hadn't won on the road in four or so years. But it doesn't seem that's how things work here at Utah. Whether by choice, or accident, everything has to be a bigger challenge than many of us expect it should be.
Only at Utah, a BCS school with one of the best records of the last decade, including two undefeated seasons and a slew of top-25 finishes, would we go out and hire a 25 year old offensive coordinator who, believe it or not, was still playing the year we received the commitment of our current quarterback. That commitment was cemented when our new offensive coordinator, Brian Johnson, led Utah to a come from behind victory in the waning minutes of their epic, and often painful, game against TCU.
Wynn was so impressed by the atmosphere and team that night, he decommitted from Colorado and was convinced Utah was the place for him.
Now, four years later, the success of this year's team rests not just on his shoulders, but on the shoulders of the player he watched deliver, at the time, the biggest win in school history.
It's funny how history wraps back around like that. Jordan Wynn, who hasn't made it through a complete season yet, is now going to receive plays from Brian Johnson, who, prior to the '08 season, hadn't made it through a complete season either.
Both came in hyped and both fought injury their first few seasons at Utah.
Both tried their hardest to live up to expectations.
One was able to do just that. He's now leading this offense from the booth. The other is hoping to do just that and lock down his legacy as a Utah legend.
Both now will heavily rely on the other and will either sink or swim together.
The success of this season is going to come down to a rookie offensive coordinator who has been removed from playing the college game all of four years and that of a quarterback who's missed as many games (19) as he's started (19). That's far from simple and easy.
Of course, if there are two players who know about not taking the easy path to success, it's Brian Johnson and Jordan Wynn. Both have faced adversity and struggle and doubt. Johnson's path to his ultimate prize, owning the most wins of any quarterback in Utah football history, was brutally tough. Wynn is only thirteen victories away from tying that mark.
It's fitting that when you get down to it, both Wynn and Johnson's paths are inexplicably linked and both now hold the success of this season in their hands. History tells me it won't be easy because it rarely ever is here at Utah. But as Johnson showed in 2008, and hopefully Wynn shows in 2012, adversity and struggle isn't necessarily a bad thing. It builds character and creates strength. And history, while often looked to as an explanation for the uncertainty of the future, is not always a blueprint for it.
I don't know if this Johnson and Wynn experiment is going to pan out. But if it does, if things click this season, it's going to be one to remember.
I'm not going to lie, I'm as intrigued as I am nervous.