Midway through the 2013 season and Utah is off to its best start in Pac-12 history.
Okay, so, that history is limited. Still, 1-2 and 4-2 overall is not at all different from where we projected this team to be throughout the preseason. For that, is the first-half of the season a success?
I think so.
It's hard to look at what Utah has done in their first six games as anything less than successful. They own a win over their biggest rival, they got a little revenge against Utah State, and they beat the top-five Stanford Cardinal. Sure, they lost to Oregon State and UCLA at home, two very winnable games, but unlike last year, the Utes actually played each team to a near-draw. It's just the Beavers and Bruins made one more play to win the game.
But we knew those games would be tough. We knew UCLA was going to be the best team in the Pac-12 South - and they are. We also knew Oregon State had the potential to keep their momentum going - even if they lost to Eastern Washington to start the season.
In fact, beyond Oregon, you could say Utah's played the toughest teams on their schedule. They survived - hell, they did better than survived.
Unfortunately, those losses don't go away because the Utes played tough. We can't ignore 'em because they came against good teams. They're still two defeats that could have been wins and the difference between what we have, a pretty decent start, and what we could have had - an undefeated, top-ten start with some considering the Utes as a dark horse national title contender.
And yet, it's hard to find too much disappointment in their first six games. After all, this point last year, Utah was just 2-4 and on the brink of the school's first losing season. The turnaround, which could be the best nationally, puts the Utes just two games away from securing a bowl berth and three from a winning season - both extremely doable right now.
Because of that, not only would I rate the first-half of the season as a B+ for Utah, all things considered, I would also say Kyle Whittingham is the Pac-12 First-Half Coach of the Year. If he keeps this up, come November, it will be very difficult to pass him over - especially if the Utes end up winning eight-plus games.
The first-half of the season also saw the emergence of Travis Wilson. Not many people knew what to expect from the sophomore quarterback, and whether he had the tools necessary to lead the Utah offense, especially after a slow start this past spring, but when it was all said and done, Wilson provided a type of energy the Utes really haven't seen at quarterback since the days of Alex Smith.
Yes, there are the interceptions and yes, they have dinged his reputation nationally - but as unimpressive as his turnovers are, his ability to shake 'em off is infinitely more impressive. He did it against Oregon State, bringing Utah back from a seventeen-point deficit to take the lead (briefly) and did it a few weeks later in a far harder, and uglier, game against UCLA. Both losses, but both games that showcased the composure and resolve of Travis Wilson.
His arrival has really been the first-half story. In fact, you could wager Utah's offensive rejuvenation is the first-half story for this program. The offense has done a complete 180 and its improvements have certainly legitimized Utah's success this season.
More extraordinary, though, has been the return of Utah's defense. This isn't necessarily something that happened between the ending of last year and the beginning of this season - it's something that has happened over the last few weeks. The growth we've seen since the Utah State and Oregon State defensive debacles has radically changed the potential of this year's team - and without that strength, Utah probably wouldn't have pulled the season's biggest upset.
All in all, I think the first-half of this season has been a near-smashing success. Not quite as good as it could have been, but it's obvious this program has matured a great deal over the last few months and that maturity is not only keeping them competitive - it's also finally winning 'em some big games.
The interceptions aside, it's hard to imagine Utah being 4-2 without Wilson.
First-Half's Biggest Surprise:
Not necessarily a surprise if you watched fall camp - but boy Bubba got it.
In my view, Dennis Erickson should be in the running for the Broyles Award. He's absolutely turned around Utah's offense and it's been a treat to watch.
First-Half's Best Game:
Utah upsets #5 Stanford
Here's to the second-half being as enjoyable as the first. If it is, we're in for a pretty special season.