It's hard to believe 2011 ended so well for Utah football.
On the Sun Bowl field in El Paso, the Utes ushered in New Year's Eve with a suspense-filled, come from behind victory over Georgia Tech in overtime. The win had been sealed with an impressive touchdown run by John White IV, ending Utah's first season in the Pac-12 on a pretty solid note.
That was supposed to be the beginning of good things. After a season filled with struggle, one where the Utes lost their starting quarterback, fell to an 0-4 Pac-12 start, and then saw their Pac-12 South title hopes fall in the closing seconds of a bitter, and ugly, defeat to Colorado at home - the Sun Bowl win was going to be the reemerging moment of Utah football.
Let's be honest, we all thought it. As that team left the field 30-27 victors, everything good seemed in front of 'em. John White was returning, so were the special receivers, Jordan Wynn was expected to be healthy, and Kyle Whittingham had one year of Pac-12 experience under his belt. Surely this team was poised for something big in 2012 ... right?
A year later, a year after a pretty solid bowl victory over a pretty solid ACC team, Utah football is riddled with problems and worse, left with so many more concerns. This team went from one most in the media felt could contend with USC for the Pac-12 South, to ultimately needing a come from behind victory over Colorado to not finish in the bottom of the division. Talk about being a world away from the Sun Bowl.
This has not been a good year for the flagship programs of the University of Utah. Basketball, which could be on the upswing, spent most of 2012 losing ... and losing badly. The football team didn't do much better, but it also had a lot more going for it, or so we thought, and therefore, its struggles that much harder to comprehend. We knew the Runnin' Utes were not going to be good in Larry Krystkowiak's first year and it showed. We didn't expect 5-7 from the football team ... 5-7 that very well could have, and maybe should have, been 4-8 or 3-9. Thank goodness for Northern Colorado.
The stunning implosion of Utah football is baffling and trying to make heads or tales of it is something we're going to spend the next few months doing. The hope is that it's only temporary and this time next year, at the end of 2013, we're laughin' up the supposed struggle of the program. It's entirely possible that this team gets it turned around rather quickly and we've either just finished our bowl game or planning it - either scenario I think we'd all take at this point ... even if it's a trip to Albuquerque.
Then again, it's possible something is setting in and if that's the case, what does it all mean?
I think that's what drives our concerns right now. Sure, it'd be easy to just say this year was a fluke, and it very well might be, but the possibility of it not being a fluke weighs more on us because the outcome is worse than maybe we can comprehend. We're not accustom to losing much anymore - and haven't been since the 80s. If you're a fan like me, someone who grew up with Ron McBride and Urban Meyer, the idea of multiple losing seasons seems as foreign as Neptune. It does not compute. I don't get it. I don't understand it. It's hard to imagine Utah not bouncing back.
But then I didn't really see 5-7 coming, either. Maybe I'm too blinded by my homerism as a fan ... I don't know. But I was shocked when this team finished below .500. I felt they were better than their record and I still do. I don't think this team should use excuses for missing a bowl game, because there is no excuse that legitimizes this season. They just underperformed and that is something they're obviously going to have to change because you can't underperform in the Pac-12 and finish with a winning record and bowl berth.
I think we've figured that one out pretty fast.
That's what 2012 taught us. It also taught us not to buy the hype. Whether it's national hype or that from the coaching staff. Fortunately, as we get closer to a new year, we don't have to worry about national hype for a while now. It's unlikely much will be expected out of the Utes ... especially anything resembling a Pac-12 South title. They'll have to earn it on their merit now, and not their past success. Maybe, just maybe, that's been the problem all along - this team feels entitled and now they've been humbled.
We'll see if it makes much of a difference. But here's hoping 2013 is much more successful than 2012.