Basketball is over for Utah and though it continues outside the borders of our state, attention here shifts toward football. Granted, we're pretty far from anything extremely exciting, but it's hard not to look ahead with what Utah accomplished last season and what questions await this one.
Obviously, the number one issue facing Utah is the vacancy at their quarterback spot. This will be hashed out in the coming month and then when fall camp rolls around, but it doesn't change the fact that we are all eagerly awaiting to see who can step in and replace Brian Johnson. This was touched on earlier this month and most readers feel Corbin Louks is the man to lead the Utes into the 2009 season. However, it should be noted that over 50% of those who voted actually voted for someone else. So while Louks seems to be the choice right now, it's not one universally backed.
With the losses on offense, expectations entering this season are definitely more grounded than they were last year. I think we all felt Utah could put together a season like they did, but conceded that something of that magnitude would require a special type of situation and that's exactly what Utah got. This season, the thought process doesn't reach that high of optimism, but it doesn't mean we enter 2009 expecting something similar to 2005, even though on paper, it might be.
The difference, of course, is that the Utes bring back a core defensive unit, have stability at the very top of the program and while key assistants were lost, the program wasn't entirely gutted like after Urban Meyer had left in 2004. That leaves some reason for optimism, especially with how close Utah was to really not dropping off in 2005.
Those 2005 Utes were very young and it showed, especially in close games. That was the season where nearly every loss came by a score or less and each and every defeat, except for the Utes' loss to UNC, came down to the final minutes. Four losses that very well could have been victories had Utah not seen such turnover from the year prior. How would the Utes have faired in 2005 had Kyle Whittingham not been a rookie head coach and actually had four years under his belt? I've got to think they would have won 8, 9 or even 10 games if that were the case.
Which brings us to 2009, where expectations probably call for Utah to win 8-10 games in the regular season and maybe make a run at the conference championship. That run will definitely rely, in my opinion, on four key road games:
@ CSU - The Rams proved to be no test for Utah last year, but they seem to be on the upswing and the last time a Utah team entered Fort Collins in rebuild mode, well let's just say we're still haunted by their inability to punch it in on 2nd, 3rd, 4th and goal from the one.
@ TCU - Utah might own three straight victories over TCU, but all three of those games have been fairly close. You've also got to think the Frogs still aren't over their collapse in Salt Lake last season.
@ UNLV - I know, I know, it's the Rebels, but they're an improving team and the last time Utah went down to Vegas, they got their asses kicked.
@ BYU - Rivalry game at the end of the season, on the road, that very well could decide the title.
Those are four games that will prove to be key to Utah's season. I don't expect Utah to win them all and I wouldn't even be surprised if they only went 2-2. However, even 2-2, coupled with going undefeated at home, creates the possibility of a 10-win season and maybe even a conference championship -- though that's unlikely, as a two-loss champion hasn't happened since 1999.
Anyway, obviously a lot will be filled in over the next few months and maybe expectations will fall or grow. But for now, I think 8-10 wins and a challenge for the conference championship seems reasonable.
What about you?