There are times in sports when circumstances beyond a team's control require that high expectations be adjusted and lowered. This is certainly one of those times for University of Utah football and its fans.
Football is a game of bounces, whether they be for good or bad, success or defeat. Utah is experiencing the bad and the defeat part after their 31-14 disappointing loss to Washington in Salt Lake City over the weekend.
Just as the football is shaped unevenly and its bounces can change a game on a fumble, so the luck and fate of a team can drastically change with one bad bounce in the form of a hard-hitting play or awkward fall causing an injury.
It was disastrous enough for the Utes on Saturday that both of those scenarios, bad fumbles (three in key spots) and a serious injury at a vital position (QB Jordan Wynn's left shoulder), took place, and by such, putting the Utes' sights on the Pac-12 title game out of sight and possibly even putting the accomplishment of six wins and going to a bowl game in some jeopardy.
It will yet be seen how the Utes respond to this most recent dose of adversity that came in almost a worst-case scenario last Saturday with the Utes' lack of depth at the quarterback spot and their need to open up their nine-week consecutive game stretch with a win at home over the Huskies in Utah's first Pac-12 home game.
Utah fans likely should hope for the best, but prepare for the worst, because it could get pretty ugly if Wynn is out for more than the two to three weeks that he has been prognosticated to be out. He will be re-evaluated after two to three weeks, and then it will be determined if he can play or if he will need more weeks to recover.
Utah's next three games in the next three weeks are against Arizona State in Salt Lake City, then the Utes take to the road to play at Pitt and at Cal. Without Wynn, and some type of resurgence in the offense and running game from what was going on on the field against Washington in the second half Saturday, the Utes could easily be looking at a 2-5 overall record and an 0-4 conference record after their game in San Francisco against Cal in three Saturdays from now.
That would be quite a drastically different picture from what most of the expectations for the Utes had set out for Utah's 2011 inaugural Pac-12 season, especially after a solid showing at USC that came down to the wire and a 54-10 blowout against rival BYU in Provo in the third week of the season.
Best advice for the Utes and their fans now is to have no expectations for the rest of the season and again, hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Making a bowl game with six or seven wins and maybe even eight is not totally out of the picture, but neither is a 2-10 finish either.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham had several interesting statements during his press conference Monday morning regarding the South Division outlook, the Utes' entering the Pac-12 this season and what that reality is like now that it's setting into the season more:
"We've got to get a South Division win, first of all. Our goal, obviously, at the beginning of the year was to win the South Division, but you can't do that without getting your first win. So that's what we're shooting for and, ya know, we knew it was going to be competitive. This is a competitive league and every week is going to be like this.
"I don't know if people thought we were going to come in and take the Pac-12 by storm and just walk through it. I mean, that's not reality. That Is not reality. This is a good conference. It's gonna take time to get recruiting classes, to continue to build up our personnel and our roster, and it's a process. Obviously, we have high expectations and everyone wants to win every ballgame, but it's very difficult in this league to do that."
Saturday's loss to Washington was indeed a very disappointing and season-changing game for the Utes, but they will need to adjust to the reality of what they have and do not have to work with at this point in the season and move on.
Whittingham has always done a pretty good job of getting his team to be able to do this after losses or injuries. With Norm Chow and his years of experience, the Utes should be able to maximize their limited potential without Jordan Wynn and do what they can in the coming weeks without him before they know if they'll have him back at all this season.
It's a tough bounce and plain bad luck for Wynn, but it's part of the game of football and a team has to find a way to deal with it, which Whittingham does well and never offers injuries as an excuse or explanation for his team's lack of high performance.
It will be an interesting rest of the season to see how the 2-2 Utes adjust and deal with the adversity and ill fortune that has hit them a third of the way into the season. Whittingham will likely have them resilient in the face of this adversity, but talent or the lack thereof at a vital spot such as quarterback, arguably the most important spot in football, will tell the tale of wins or losses for the Utes in the remainder of this season.