Summer is about over and that means college football is now right around the corner. So close, in fact, we're officially a week away from the start of the 2013 season. In just a few days, we'll get a great deal of the answers we seek about this year's Utes - namely whether they can improve over last year's 5-7 team and, if so, by how much.
This is going to be an intense and important season for the program. I feel, and I've said as much the past few months, that we're heading for a fork in the road and the path we take will ultimately define both Utah football and its current coaching staff. While Kyle Whittingham is secure in his position, the security of that securiness isn't and another losing season, even after all he's done for Utah football, will probably put him closer to the hot seat than any of us would like.
Frankly, I have faith in Whittingham. I believe, and have since my conversion, that he is a very good coach. I do believe much of the problems Utah has suffered through since joining the Pac-12 is mostly due to the transition, which, let's be honest, has been bumpy at best. But we're now entering year three and that excuse only holds for so long before you start finding other reasons to explain the downturn.
If Utah really is only a step behind the middle of the conference, I look for this season to propel them closer to that point. If, a few months from now, we're still stuck in neutral, or an even worse position, then questions will have to be answered and we'll have to figure out if the right course is the current one.
Like I said, I'm confident it is. I believe this year's Utes will be much better than last year's. It might not entirely show in the wins and losses, since they face a far tougher schedule than the 2012 incarnation, but a winning season should always be the expectation at Utah, regardless of their position or what they did the season before. If they're improved, I have to believe they will find at least six wins to garner a bowl invite and set the foundation for an even steadier line of success.
Of course, we're all a bit jaded after last season. It was certainly a crisis of confidence and I wouldn't blame any fan who has severe reservations about this year's Utes. We're that jilted groom who's just found love again and now the anxiety of another wedding going badly is starting to take over. We might be excited for the event, but let's be honest, we're all thinking about what happened the last time. Right?
(and don't you just love my metaphors?)
In a week, I think we'll get a good idea of what this Utah team can do - just as we did two weeks into the 2012 season. This game is going to tell us a lot, even if, unfortunately, it still doesn't tell us all we need to know. Will a win guarantee Utah a bowl bid? Probably not. But a loss certainly will spell trouble and bring into question whether they can win enough games for a winning season.
In fact, if, a week from today, the Utes lose, I suspect most will quickly write off the 2013 season. That's a scary proposition, since, you know, it's only the first game and all. You've got to think if the fans are ready to jump off the train, though, so are, sadly enough, the players. You know, it's been suggested that last year's team couldn't recover from the USU loss. I agree. I don't think they ever did, even if, a week later, they were able to knock off BYU. That loss haunted 'em throughout and really proved to be the difference.
Is this year's game just as important? Probably. A 0-1 start, with that loss coming at home, most likely isn't going to bode well for a struggling program. However, if they can grab that win, it will set in motion some positive feelings that I don't think has filled this program much of the last three seasons. The Aggies, as an improved opponent, yet one that is beatable, can best help define this season.
So, I'm looking for the chance to make a statement. It's been far too long since we felt good about our Utes (maybe not since the Sun Bowl). I want that to change.
A week from today, I think it will. I feel good about this year's team. Maybe not good enough to proclaim them division contenders - but good enough to push for a bowl bid and after last season, that's something I'll happily take.
One week and it begins. Are you ready? More importantly - is Utah?