One foe down with many to follow
It may sound hard for you to swallow
But there is no game the Utes can’t win
It’s déjà “U” all over again
COMMENTARY — One down and thirteen to go (if you count the Pac-12 Championship Game and a Bowl Game).
Things are starting to line up for this to potentially be a special year.
Utah has a bevy of starters returning, including a third-year starting quarterback. Utah’s defense is as solid as it has ever been and the Utes have a number of offensive weapons. One of Utah’s conference rivals is getting all of the attention about potentially going undefeated this year. However, that conference rival has to play Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium. There are teams on Utah’s schedule that no one expects Utah to beat, including multiple teams within Utah’s own conference. While the national media focuses its attention elsewhere, Utah is flying low under the radar, ready to shock the nation.
This all sounds so familiar, like a story I’ve heard before. Is it 2012 or 2008? It’s hard to tell at times.
In 2008, Brian Johnson was Utah’s starting quarterback for a third year, with his three starting seasons having been interrupted by injuries. If Johnson had gone down with another injury in 2008, Utah’s special season would have been over. Johnson had a number of offensive weapons at his disposal, including an effective running game, and a talented corps of receivers. Utah’s defense was one of the best in the nation, with a line anchored by Paul Kruger on the end (who ould later be drafted in the second round by Baltimore) and with Sean Smith at cornerback (who would also be drafted in the second round by Miami).
Fast forward four years to 2012. Jordan Wynn is starting at quarterback for a third year, with his three starting seasons having been interrupted by injuries. Technically, this will be the fourth year Wynn has opened the season as a starter, ut if the NCAA isn’t going to count last year and give Wynn a redshirt season, then I see no reason why I should count it either and ruin an otherwise perfectly good parallel to Johnson. If Wynn goes down with another injury this year, Utah’s chance for a special season will be over. Wynn has a number of offensive weapons at his disposal, including an explosive running game with Heisman and All-America candidate John White IV as well as a talented corps of receivers including DeVonte Christopher and Dres Anderson, with Jake Murphy at tight end. It is pure karma that the keys to the offense were handed over to Brian Johnson this year as the nation’s youngest Division I Offensive Coordinator.
As has often been the case over the years, including 2008, the crown jewel of Utah’s team is its stellar defense. Likely NFL first-rounder Star Lotulelei anchors a very talented Utah defensive front. Rounding out the formidable defensive line are two familiar names in brothers Dave and Joe Kruger — again, pure karma. Ryan Lacy and Mo Lee lock down the outside, while Brian Blechen continues the storied tradition of gifted Utah safeties (although the Utes will be without the services of Blechen for the first three games).
In 2008, BYU started out the season on its infamous “Quest for Perfection.” Notably, the Cougars road to a perfect season led through Rice-Eccles Stadium in late November. However, the Y’s perfect season was spoiled before Utah even had a chance to do the honors as TCU routed the No. 9-ranked Cougars 32-7 in Ft. Worth, Tex., on Oct. 16, 2008.
After BYU fell, TCU and Utah were in a tight competition for the spotlight as the non-BCS darling of the national media. Even though Utah was ranked 10th and playing at home, many national pundits still expected TCU to beat Utah in a nationally-televised Thursday night game on Nov. 6, 2008 … and TCU almost did. However, Johnson led a thrilling comeback, leaving many commentators to continue to postulate that TCU was still the better team.
USC is getting all of the love this year. However, USC’s road to the BCS title game (not to mention the Pac-12 title game) goes through Rice-Eccles Stadium. Similar to the fate suffered by BYU in 2008, USC may not even be undefeated when it plays Utah because the Trojans have to play the Stanford Cardinal on the road in Palo Alto on Sept. 15. The Trojans also have to play the Oregon Ducks, albeit in the comfort of the Coliseum, Nov. 3. The only potential match-up between the Utes and either the Ducks or the Cardinal would be the Pac-12 title game.
Utah started out the 2008 season playing Michigan in the Big House, a game few people thought the Utes could win. But they did. In addition to the TCU game, Utah had a comeback win at home against a surging Oregon State squad. Although the final score would definitively prove otherwise, few people gave Utah any chance against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Utah simply defied all odds and expectations with its special season in 2008.
While no one is giving Utah much of a chance when it comes to the Pac-12 title game, not to mention a berth in a BCS bowl, that is no different than the position in which the Utes found themselves in 2008. In fact, playing the role of underdog and fighting for respect has typically served the Utes well.
I know, I know, a 41-0 drubbing of Northern Colorado in and of itself is hardly a harbinger of success in the tough Pac-12. However, it was nice to see the Utes actually beat a gridiron team from Colorado, a feat I would like to see duplicated against the Buffaloes on Nov. 23.
Jim Carrey’s character, Lloyd, in the movie “Dumb and Dumber” famously asked, “What do you think the chances are of a guy like you and a girl like me ending up together?” When the girl responded, “One out of a million,” instead of being disappointed, he was elated at the prospect that “you’re telling me there’s a chance, yeah!” Isn’t that why we play the games — there’s always still a chance?
I most definitely think Utah has a much better chance than one in a million of making this a special season. Is it likely? Not necessarily. Is it possible? Yes. Will they? Only time will tell. Until then, sit back, buckle up, keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times, and enjoy.
Dwayne Vance is a sports commentator and the opinions stated are his own and not necessarily those of St. George News.