Utah Utes Football: Watch the Top Plays of 2011

Jon SiddowayCorrespondent IJanuary 18, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 10:  DeVonte Christopher #10 of the Utah Utes turns away from Nickell Robey #21 of the USC Trojans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 10, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Nobody said it was going to be easy, and the Pac-12 didn't necessarily roll out the red carpet in welcoming its newest member, the University of Utah.

Instead, they taught them a quick, valuable lesson: the Utes are no longer in Kansas (or the Mountain West) anymore.

Gone are the breezy days of coasting through schedules with opponents like UNLV, New Mexico and Colorado State. Gone are the days of struggling in the altitude of Laramie, and still crushing Wyoming.

Bye bye San Diego State.

Hello USC, Stanford and Oregon. 

Expected, even predicted, to contend in their inaugural season, the transition proved to be a bumpy roller-coaster ride with lots of ups and downs.  

Losing their first four conference games, and their starting QB Jordan Wynn to a shoulder injury, the Utes were against the ropes.

But they responded with wins in five of their last six games, including a dramatic 30-27 victory over Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Down 14 late in the game, the Utes rallied to force overtime and eventually win the nail-biter. 

It was a display of toughness and determination by a team that had dealt with a myriad of injuries throughout the season, including eight to key contributors.

"Really," coach Kyle Whittingham said of the bowl game, "it was a microcosm of our season."

At one point, despite the early setbacks, the Utes had put themselves in position to qualify for the Pac-12 Championship and a spot in the Rose Bowl.

All that stood in their way was lowly Colorado, arguably the league's worst team. Well, the Utes came out flat and paid for it in the end, a 17-14 loss. 

It was another lesson learned the hard way—that there are no days off in the Pac-12. 

The 2011 season still provided plenty of highlights, as shown in the above clips. And the Utes hope for a bright future in their new conference. 

It won't get any easier, but with 16 overall starters returning, plus what's shaping up to be the program's finest recruiting class to date, next year should be even better.