Coach Whittingham enters his third year as Utah's coach this season and while we don't know how that will develop, we do have history that could give us an indication. Typically a football program starts taking the shape of a coach by his third year and I don't expect that to change with Whittingham. This happens mostly because players that were recruited by the past coaching staff (or in Utah's case, the past coaching staff and the staff before that) leave and the current coach begins bringing in his own players. That obviously isn't the exact situation Utah is facing right now, as integral parts of Utah's offense were not recruited by Whittingham or his staff.
With that said, I think enough time has gone by to give us an idea of what type of coach Whittingham will be. And while this years schedule is tough, the conference slate in my mind should really tell us where this program is heading. But how will this season compare to years past, especially the third season in past Utah coaches careers? I think looking at each individual coach's third year might shed some light on what we may be in for this year. Obviously though this will not be perfect because most (or you could say all) past coaches inherited a team far worse than that of Whittigham's in '05. But it could show if there will be improvement over the 2nd year and if there is one, how big it will be.
Let's start with Ron McBride, since Urban Meyer only stayed for two seasons.
In McBride's first season the Utes went 4-7, however by his second season the Utes finished 7-5. Though they missed out on a bowl game, even with a 12-game schedule. In his third season, Utah went only 6-6, a step back from his second, but actually made a bowl game. That was a 28-31 loss to Washington State in the Copper Bowl and Utah's first bowl game since the 1960s. Utah probably got a bowl bid because by the early 1990s, bowl games were becoming more and more common. The Utes didn't improve that much from McBride's second season, as both years they only finished 4-4 in WAC play. That to me shows minimal gain from year 2 to year 3, which I'll call a wash for McBride.
Fassel had to replace Stobart and actually had a decent first year, going 8-4. Much of that had to do with the fact he took over a team with a lot of experience and rode them to a damn good first season with Utah. However it was all down hill for him after that, as his second season saw the Utes go 2-9. By his third year the Utes rebounded a bit for a 5-7 season, however only went 2-6 in WAC play, a one game improvement over Fassel's second year. By Fassel's fourth year the Utes once again finished above .500, but that didn't last, as they finished 4-8 in his fifth and final year. Clearly you can see that Fassel had success initially with Stobart's talent, but flopped with his own. By his third year there was a marginal increase in wins, compared to his second, but like with McBride, not enough for of definitive proof that his third year was that much better than his second.
Stobart took over from Wayne Howard, who left the program on a fairly decent note (8-2). His first two seasons saw the Utes go 5-6 each year and by his third he got them to a 6-5 season. In 1983 (his second season) Utah had finished 4-4 in WAC play and by his third year they were 4-3-1, with a ton of close losses. It appeared that by his third year Stobart was getting things turned around, which would explain why Fassel had such a solid first year with Stobart's players. However Stobart would not be given the chance for a 4th year, as he was fired after that 6-5 campaign.
Looking at the past three of four coaches prior to Whittingham and you can see that there isn't a dramatic increase or decrease from year two to three. Instead of looking at every coach in Utah history, I think this gives us enough information to conclude that we probably won't see a dramatic change from Whittingham's year two to year three. If there is a move, however slight it may be, it'll probably be in the winning direction. McBride, Fassel and Stobart all improved from their second and third years. I expect the same, especially in conference standing, even if it means another 8-5 season for Utah under Whittingham.