In a few short hours I'll snuggle myself into bed, flip on the TV and watch one final classic football game before dozing off to sleep. There visions of footballs will dance in my head and come tomorrow morning, I will settle down for a long day of gridiron action. A day that I hope will culminate in me cheering on my Utes to victory over a UCLA team fresh off a 10-2 season.
Tonight is my Christmas Eve and I'm anxiously awaiting and hoping that the Santa Claus of College Football leaves me the gift of a victory over the Bruins. It's the only thing on my list, boldly written in black ink and circled a dozen or so times for it's captivating to the eye. Tomorrow I will either be the happy kid that got exactly what he wanted, or the kid stuck with nothing but a pair of black socks. It better be the former rather than the latter, because I don't need a new pair of socks! Yes, a victory over UCLA will be a great way to kickoff my Labor Day weekend and I guess it's not a bad way to start the season, either.
And so here we are, less than 24-hours away from the 2006 Utah football season and so begins year two of the Kyle Whittingham era. Whittingham has also instituted his 48-hour football policy, which means it's football and nothing but football for the 48-hours before kickoff. That means Utah, on their eve of the season start, probably is eating, sleeping and breathing nothing but college football. That's commitment and damn, I hope it pays off tomorrow night.
It's the night before the season and I'm nervous, excited and optimistic. It's a new day where every team has new life. Whether your program is coming off a losing season an undefeated season or just a mediocre season, the records are the same and the hope just as high. For Utah fans, we put stock in a strong finish and an upset win in the Emerald Bowl, but we also understand that happened last year and now it's time to write a new chapter in the book of Utah football. Tomorrow, Utah will either be 1-0 or 0-1 and obviously the expectations and excitement will differ from the final outcome.
As a Utah fan I can't help but continue to go back to the past when it comes to my doubts. The Utes have been in this position before, opening the season up with high expectations only to watch the season crumble beneath them. That was the tune of the Ron McBride era and one that probably caused a lot of hair implants among the Utah faithful. I think Whittingham is a better coach than McBride, but until I see constant success, I will always have my doubts. While I want to compare this upcoming season to 2004, the 2000 season is still fresh in my mind. That year the Utes were coming off a 9-3 record, a strong victory against Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl and were picked by many to win the Mountain West Conference. Instead of competing for the top spot, Utah found themselves in a battle for last place. The Utes, despite all the hype, fell to an 0-4 start and would finish with their worst record since the 1990 season. So those doubts do linger, not because I doubt Whittingham, but because as a Utah fan I'm so used to getting kicked in the balls over and over again. So many times in fact that 2003, 2004 and 2005 aren't good enough to change my perception heading into the season.
Coach McBride while at Utah wore a hat with MAFU scribbled across it. It was an acronym for Mental toughness, Aggressiveness, Fanatical effort, and Unity. Sadly, it was McBride's complete lack of mental toughness that ultimately unraveled his career with the Utes. Boneheaded mental mistakes, especially when it came to clock management, kept the Utes from ever reaching their total potential. I do not think that is a problem with Whittingham, yet it's now his job to show that Utah football is indeed heading forward and not back, and I believe that starts with a victory against UCLA in Pasadena.
Doubts aside, I will not be too disappointed with a loss to UCLA tomorrow night. No I am not conceding a loss because I do believe the Utes can win, but losing a road opener to a Pacific Ten team that went 10-2 last year really isn't all that bad...if they can at least show up. If the Utes play their hearts out and come just short of a victory, I don't see how anyone can be upset with that type of effort. If the Bruins walk all over Utah in a rout, well then maybe I'll probably change my tune. Of course the best tune will be Utah Man blaring through the Rose Bowl as Utah celebrates an opening season win against the Bruins on their home turf, here's to that.