Kyle Whittingham begins his fourth season as Utah's head coach in a matter of weeks and the steps he takes this year may prove to be the most important of his career. It's hard to say this isn't Whittingham's strongest team yet and because of that, expectations are justifiably high. Unfortunately for Whittingham and his staff, he now has to live up to them, or once again face the charges he is not fit to lead the Utes.
Fortunately, though, I believe Whittingham is ready to embrace this challenge, as it is my opinion he's progressed as a coach in each of the past three seasons. Though the growth has been excruciatingly slow at times, it's difficult to make a case against Whittingham being a better coach today than he was during the first quarter of his first game in his first season. Because of all this advancement, it's easy to see why many believe the Utes will take the next step and not only contend for the Mountain West, but possibly the BCS as well. No matter what one thinks of Utah's ability to climb high enough in the polls to make the BCS, winning the Mountain West is surely Whittingham's goal, the team's goal and the fans' goal, too. That means it is also the expectation for the 2008 Utah Utes. An expectation that should be met and if it isn't, might signal the program as a whole has reached its ceiling under Whittingham.
To be clear, I am not saying this will happen. In fact, I believe Utah will either share or win the title out right, but this team is too good not to win it. And if they don't win it now, then when? Could it be next year, even with the high turnover on offense? Maybe a year after that? If this were to be the case, Whittingham would be looking at five consecutive seasons without any type of hardware. That's not tolerable, not for a program that five years earlier had won back-to-back titles.
This means, of course, this really is the season of truth. It will show us how far the program has progressed under Whittingham and how high his coaching potential is. I'm not suggesting he needs to go undefeated, or even 11-1, to prove his worth, but anything less than 10-wins and a championship will be a disappointment (obviously, that's if they make it through the season relatively healthy). Ultimately, all Whittingham has worked for throughout his coaching career is building to this moment. The perfect storm is on the horizon and it's up to him to take advantage of it. That is what great coaches do, they seize the moment and use it to their benefit. This is Kyle Whittingham's moment, now hopefully he grabs hold of it and rides it to success.