It has been a busy offseason for the University of Utah football program. Eight Utes were drafted in the NFL, head coach Kyle Whittingham was given a new contract extension through the year 2021 and a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Troy Taylor joined the team. The Utes look like a different team, or they should at least.
With all the changes, the team should be primed for a successful season, but there are still unanswered questions. Who will be the starting quarterback? How will Taylor enter his high-powered pass offense into a traditional power-run offense? How will Whittingham fill the gaps of those who entered the NFL?
For the Utes to be successful, the team must have more consistency and efficiency.
In 2011, the Utes lost the South division title in the last week. After a countless number of miracles and other teams losing games, they shouldn’t have lost. All the Utes had to do was beat a Colorado team that had lost 23 consective road games, but they fell to the Buffaloes in Salt Lake City, 17-14.
After starting the season 8-1 in 2015, the Utes had complete control of their destiny going into the final three weeks of the season, but they dropped two games in a row, and their division title hopes went away. In 2016, Utah controlled its own destiny once again going into the last two weeks of the season, but it fell to a depleted 3-7 Oregon team at home, and it saw the South division title fall out of its hands again.
Since joining the Pac-12, the Utes are 3-0 in August, 15-5 in September, 13-12 in October and 11-13 in November. They’ve always seemed to start strong, but the back-half of the season has been an issue. When they first started in the Pac-12, it was the curse of October, and now it’s the curse of November.
To overcome that curse, they need to learn to be consistent. They can’t keep starting the year strong and finish weak. Along with consistency, Utah has to be more efficient in the red zone.
Last season, the Utes finished 11th in the Pac-12 in red-zone efficiency with a percentage of 77.8 on 54 trips as they scored 27 touchdown and 15 field goals. In comparison, Washington finished first with a 93.1 percent efficiency on 58 trips with 44 touchdowns and 11 field goals. If Utah had scored one touchdown in the red zone against Cal, Oregon and Colorado — teams it lost to — instead of turning it over or kicking a field goal, it could have finished with an overall 12-1 record. That record would have won the Utes the South, giving them a chance to play for the Pac-12 Championship.
Becoming more consistent and efficient in the red zone is a lot easier said than done. With Taylor plus three quarterbacks who could start, I’d say the Utes are off to a great start. If the Utes don’t fix these issues though, it could be a long season. If they become more consistent and efficient (based on their experience and upcoming schedule) best case scenario for the Utes this year is a 10-2 overall record with a trip to the Valero Alamo Bowl or Holiday Bowl. If the problems don’t get fixed, Utah fans should expect a 7-5 overall record and another trip to the Foster Farms Bowl or Sun Bowl.