Bleeding Red: Bowl invite unlikely for beat-up Utes

There is no doubt beating Stanford was nice
But one big win does not make you the king
Ever since the Utes have been cold as ice
Here comes the fat lady ready to sing

COMMENTARY — If you had told me at the beginning of the season that Utah would beat a previously undefeated Stanford team to mark the midpoint of the season, I would have been absolutely elated. However, I never would have guessed that such a win would be the sole conference win for the Utes with only two games left to play.

The win over the Cardinal gave the Utes a 4-2 record with six games still to play. Things were really starting to look up. However, the Utes then proceeded to drop four straight games to fall to 4-6, including a 1-6 record against Pac-12 teams.

Utah_Utes_-_U_logo.svgThat’s right, Utah’s sole conference win came at the expense of a previously undefeated Stanford. There is no denying that it was a very impressive win when it happened. While still impressive, the win has lost some of its luster in light of Stanford’s loss last weekend to USC. In hindsight, the Utes’ victory over the Cardinal will likely be the biggest enigma of the Pac-12 season.

While it is hard to pinpoint a single factor or statistic that explains the sudden spiral into a four-game slide for Utah, there are some big red flags.

In the first six games, the Utes were averaging 37 points a game. Of course, naysayers will point to the 70-point performance against Weber State as artificially inflating that average. However, even if you throw out the Weber State game, Utah still averaged more than 30 points a game, with its lowest point total being the 20 points it took to beat BYU.

In their last four games, the Utes have averaged less than 17 points a game. The drop in offensive production does correspond directly with the play from the quarterback position. Travis Wilson injured his throwing hand against Arizona the week after the Stanford game. Wilson has been battered and bruised ever since, including a concussion that prevented him from even traveling with the team to Oregon last weekend.

Travis Wilson

Wilson suffered a concussion in the ASU game when he was hit and the ball came out, but he did not exhibit any symptoms of the concussion until the following day. He underwent an MRI, which confirmed the concussion and also revealed a preexisting condition that has ruled out Wilson playing for the remainder of the year. The condition does not appear to be life-threatening, but may end Wilson’s playing career in that he may be at risk if he plays and gets hit.

Monday afternoon Utah coach Kyle Whittingham responded to questions about Wilson’s injury.

“Through the concussion diagnosis process, a preexisting problem was discovered,” he said. “They proceeded with an angiogram to take a closer look. That confirmed that there was a preexisting problem and something that certainly needs to be addressed and continue to be monitored.”

The bottom line for the sophomore QB: “Travis is done for the season.”

But the quarterback play is not the sole cause of Utah’s offensive woes. The offensive line has actually gotten worse over the course of the season, rather than better. Plus, injuries have severely hampered the passing game with both Jake Murphy and Westlee Tonga at the tight end position being unavailable to play (although Murphy made a miraculous return in the loss against Oregon). Losing wide receiver Kenneth Scott for the season in the opening game against Utah State was a huge blow as well. While Dres Anderson has been awesome at times, the receiving corps as a whole has dropped a lot of passes, and has not done much to alleviate Utah’s offensive struggles.

So what do Utah fans have to look forward to for the rest of the season? Sadly, not much, with little to no hope of playing in a bowl game.

The Pac-12 already has eight teams that are bowl eligible with six or more wins, with Utah being one of the four teams on the outside looking in. Three of those four teams, including the Utes, still have a shot to get to six wins and bowl eligibility, with California currently being the only Pac-12 team officially eliminated from post-season play.

The Utes have to win out, including a road game against Washington State this week (coming off a huge win over Arizona) and a home season-finale against Colorado (which is no stranger to playing the spoiler against Utah).

Even if the Utes manage to win their last two games to become bowl eligible, there is still a very real and distinct difference between being eligible to play in a bowl game and actually being invited to play in a bowl game.

Here’s the problem: The Pac-12 only has seven bowl tie-ins. Remember, eight Pac-12 teams are already bowl eligible. Unfortunately, it appears doubtful that a Pac-12 team will be playing for the national championship, which may have given an eighth Pac-12 team a bowl bid. It is possible that a Pac-12 team might get an at-large berth in another bowl game (with possibilities including the Independence Bowl, the Pinstripe Bowl, the Poinsettia Bowl and the Little Caesars Bowl). But with eight Pac-12 teams already beating Utah to bowl eligible status, with many of those teams having already beaten Utah and overall having better resumes, it looks like the Utes are going to come up short of an extra game this year.

The really intriguing near-miss is the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco on December 27. BYU is already locked in to play the Pac-12 No. 6 team. I personally know a lot of BYU fans who have been secretly cheering for Utah to win just enough to pull into the sixth slot so the Cougars would have one more shot at the Utes before the two-year hiatus in their annual rivalry game. I’m not so sure the Fight Hunger Bowl folks would have been too thrilled about such a match-up, but that is pretty much a moot point now. Instead, BYU is just going to have to lick its wounds for the next two years and wait until 2016.

As for the stunning development at the quarterback position for the Utes, well it doesn’t look good.

Former walk-on Adam Schulz will be the starting quarterback for the last two games of the season. If Schulz goes down with an injury, Whittingham said they will pull Connor Manning’s redshirt and make him the starting quarterback.

However, if Schulz just has the wind knocked out of him for a play or two, or something happens (like his helmet comes off) that requires him to sit out a play, then Utah has a contingency plan in place so the Utes don’t have to burn Manning’s redshirt for just one or two plays. With Wilson’s football career in jeopardy, it may be more important than ever to maximize Manning’s eligibility.

regardless of what happens at QB, it pains me to say it, but it looks like it’s all over but the crying. So bring on the fat lady, let her sing, and let’s move on to bigger and better things (i.e., men’s and women’s basketball, and especially gymnastics!).


Dwayne Vance is a sports columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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