I still believe in Travis Wilson.
I've had faith in him since he took the field against UCLA last year and I'm not going to question it now that he's had an injury and a few bad games.
Yes, Wilson has turned into a turnover machine. No, his career won't blossom into something special if he doesn't get 'em under control. Of course, I'm quick to remind myself with every interception that Wilson is only a sophomore, someone who has yet to finish a complete season, and therefore still has a great deal of growing to do.
It is frustrating watching the offense sputter, and it's certainly brought on a lot of doubt that didn't exist a month ago, but Wilson's brilliance during the first-half of the season can't be denied - especially when you couple his downturn with not just his injury, but the injuries of Kenneth Scott, Westlee Tonga and Jake Murphy. The addition of the Utes' offensive line struggles has only exasperated the situation.
Wilson does deserve a chance to line up with an offense worthy of his talent. He hasn't the last few weeks and it's shown - as whomever you throw behind center with this offense is going to struggle. It's a sobering fact that shows quarterback play, while vital, is only as good as the offense itself. There isn't enough consistency, depth, and yes, even coaching, to provide Wilson the cushion he needs. Because of that, he's torpedoed the last few weeks and gone from one of the best quarterbacks in the conference to one of the worst.
I'll concede that is troubling. The collapse has been significant and shocking. It's made me question a great deal about this team. And yet, I still can't find the justification to blame Wilson. Not with how everything has gone south since the victory over Stanford.
You know, even with Wilson hampered by injury and a depleted offense, he still has the drive we want from a quarterback. Against Arizona State, with an offense that was doing nothing, Wilson essentially made his legs the only weapon at their disposal - rushing for 44 yards, more than any of the Utes' running backs. For a period, it was the only offensive productivity the team saw and while it was ultimately his arm that cost them victory, it's clear he did everything in his power through the first three quarters to deliver any type of offensive momentum.
He has the heart to win and the talent too. Right now, there are a lot of people questioning the latter point - but I promise you it's there. Just watch, and rewatch, the first six games. You'll see a quarterback determined to win and with the arm to do just that. Wilson played phenomenally up until his injury and I see no reason why he can't again when fully healed.
The problem, bigger than talent and health, is mental strength. Wilson has taken a beating and because he's young, he hasn't been able to develop the mental toughness you generally get from junior and senior quarterbacks. My biggest fear is not that Wilson won't pan out as a talent - it's that, like Jordan Wynn, the coaches will play him when they shouldn't and risk jeopardizing the talent - either because of the mental attributes of physically wrecking him.
Wynn was a good quarterback. I think a lot of people forget that. He could have been a special quarterback at Utah and looked well on his way to that possibility through most of the 2010 season. But then, like Wilson, he was injured. At first, the injury went unnoticed, and he continued to play, looking tentative against TCU and Notre Dame, then sluggish against BYU. It wasn't until the end of the season when it became clear Wynn was not himself for a good portion of the year and then needed surgery. The next two seasons turned into a nightmarish mess of de javu - with the coaches assuring everyone that Wynn was healthy and ready to go. He wasn't. Wynn's throwing was the essence of the wounded duck and, just weeks into the season, he was decommissioned for the year due to injury. A year later, not even a full two games into the season, Wynn's career came to a crashing halt as he laid motionless on the field of Romney Stadium.
I don't want that with Wilson. It's why these next few weeks will prove important - not only for Wilson to lead Utah to a bowl game, but for the coaches to make the right call when it comes to playing him. If Wilson is healthy, and 100% as Kyle Whittingham suggests, then he should play Saturday. But if there is any doubt about his hand, and he's still obstructed by injury, the coaches have to seriously rethink their approach to these next few weeks.
Is it worth playing Wilson if he isn't 100% - if he's just, say, 85%?
Or should the team let him rest some more and hope he's healthy enough to take on Washington State?
It's not an easy answer, but whatever the decision, it most definitely will help define the future of not just Wilson, but this football program the next few years.
I still believe in Wilson because I've seen enough to make me believe. I don't think now is the time to start questioning his ability, even though he's disappointed the last couple games. He's still a gamer, he still has talent and he should still be our quarterback.
Hopefully this weekend he showcases that talent and leads the Utes to an improbable victory. But if he doesn't, and I'm not expecting him to, my view won't change one bit. I still believe in Travis Wilson.