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The Figgis Forum: Utah

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Oregon v Utah Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images

Welcome to the fifth edition of The Figgis Forum, a fan-driven season preview for each PAC-12 team. We’re leaving tech central and packing for colder weather as we hit the road and make our way along Highway 80 East through Sacramento, Reno, across Nevada and straight into Salt Lake City. So let’s pick up a six-pack of Polygamy Porter and head up Campus Drive to Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Utah

Fast Facts:

All-Time Record: 661-453-31 (.591%)

National Championships: 0

Conference Championships: 24

Bowl Games: 20

Bowl Record: 16-4 (.800%)

Consensus All-Americans: 7

Heismans: 0

NFL Draft Picks: 155

1st Round Draft Picks: 8

Weeks in AP Poll: 112

Weeks at #1: 0

Vs Oregon:

All-Time Record: 9-21

Longest Win Streak: 2 Games (1966-1967)

Longest Losing Streak: 3 Games (1933-1935)

Largest Margin of Victory: 62-20 (2015)

Largest Margin of Defeat: 8-35 (1962)

Last Meeting: 2016 (L 28-30)

Overview

Alright, first things first since our visiting friend seems to get a lot of flak regarding what a Ute is. From Utahutes.com:

University of Utah athletics teams are known as the "Utes" in honor of the American Indian tribe for which the state of Utah is named. The Utes have inhabited this area of the country for at least 1,000 years. There were originally 12 "Nuche", or "The People", bands throughout Utah and Colorado. The Utes were among the first American Indians to acquire the horse as a means of transportation, and in rock writing the Utes are depicted as horses.

After several armed conflicts with Mormon settlers in 1861, the Utes were relocated to the Uintah Basin in northeastern Utah. Today, tribal headquarters are in Fort Duchesne, Utah, and the Ute Tribe, with a membership of 3,300 and its own tribal government, remains a vibrant part of the state. The University of Utah, in cooperation with the Ute Tribal Business Committee, is proud to share in the tradition of the Ute tribe through the "Utes" nickname.

The Utah Utes are the American Dream if it were a football program. Utah was originally a Division II program that made the jump into Division I, spent time in the Mountain States Conference (1938-1961), the Western Athletic Conference (1962-1998), the Mountain West Conference (1999-2010) and finally made it to the Pac-12 in 2011. Before joining the Pac, they thrived in the underdog role, being the first non-AQ (BCS era) team to reach a BCS bowl in 2004 when they defeated Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl. They then became the first non-AQ team to reach two BCS bowls when they famously upset Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, finishing the 2008 season as the only undefeated FBS team.

After enjoying moderate success from the early days of the program and through the end of WWI, Utah hired Ike J. Armstrong in 1925. Armstong would remain as the head coach of the Utes for 25 years, winning 141 games (most in program history) with a 0.704 winning percentage and 13 conference championships (six in the MSC). Armstrong recorded three undefeated and untied seasons in his first six years and would only finish with a losing record twice in his entire 25 years. After the 1949 season, Armstrong left the Utah program to become the Athletic Director for the University of Minnesota. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1957.

Jack C. Curtice was then hired for the 1950 season and he would go 45-32-4 with four conference championships in his eight seasons. After Curtice left to coach Stanford in the 1958 season, Utah struggled to find success and won just one conference championship (co-champions 1964) until 1995. Through the 1960’s, Utah had a record of 53-48-1 and things only got worse from there as the 1970’s brought a 44-67 record that included two 1-10 seasons in 1974 and 1975. There were slightly more wins in the 1980’s, but still an overall losing record of 54-57-2.

Things finally changed starting in 1990 when the Utes hired Ron McBride. His first His first season looked like more of the same as Utah finished 4-7, the program’s 11th losing season in the past 20 years. McBride’s teams steadily improved, going to their first bowl game in 28 years in 1992 and finishing 10-2 and ranked #10 in 1994. In 1995 the won a share of the conference title and would do so again a few years later in 1999. Losing seasons in 2000 and 2002 ultimately cost McBride his job and the Utes hired Urban Meyer as his replacement. Meyer only coached at Utah for two seasons before leaving for Florida, going 10-2 in 2003 and a perfect 12-0 in 2004 with a win over Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl.

After Meyer’s departure, Utah promoted Kyle Wittingham who had spent the previous decade as the Defensive Coordinator. In Wittingham’s first four years, the Utes steadily improved from 7-5 in 2005 to another undefeated season in 2008 that included a 31-17 ass-kicking of heavily-favored Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Wittingham followed that up with consecutive 10-3 seasons before joining the Pac-12 in 2011. The transition to a Power Five conference was initially a rough one as the Utes would go 8-5, 5-7 and 5-7 in their first three years. Since then they have found more sustained success as they have gone 9-4, 10-3 and 9-4 in the past three years. In the chaos that is the Pac-12 South, five teams have won the south division in the past five years. Will that trend continue this year with Utah as the only south team yet to claim the south title? Let’s see what the Utes have to say.

Fan Q & A

For the following section, I would like to thank RavenousUte for the assist and shakeitsugaree of Block U for answering my questions and really going above and beyond with his response.

Shakeitsugaree: Coming off what I think many Utah fans would call a disappointing, if not predictable, finish to 2016 – a season which saw 16 Utah players signed to NFL teams – there are reasons for both hope and concern regarding the Ute football program. Whittingham finally cut assistant Aaron Roderick loose, and brought in newcomer Troy Taylor to overhaul the offense. Taylor, as you might know, was the Co-OC and QB coach at FCS Eastern Washington; he also spent time as an assistant coach at Cal.

This move shocked many a Utah fan, as Roderick had been shuffled between various positions for over a decade. The move was seen by some as a firm statement by Whitt regarding his commitment to changing the culture of the offense, but there is much lingering doubt over the level of autonomy given to the OC by our HC. My guess is that if the offense scores points, Whitt will be more than happy to keep out of their business.

There are several groups that are replacing (reloading?) starters: the offensive line, secondary, wide receivers, running backs and special teams are a few groups that will have big shoes to fill. The ‘OBLOCK’ (Utah’s name for their offensive linemen) is loaded with talent, albeit largely unproven. We have some promising newcomers at CB and safety, but this is a place where we lost a lot from last year. You know the story line with Carrington, and the report from Fall camp is that he will make an immediate impact on our offense, should he choose to.

You also know that we lost Joe Williams to the draft, so our oft injured running backs from last year will need to step up here. Rounding out this short (and incomplete) list of question marks is who will start at place kicker, since Automatic Andy Phillips exhausted his eligibility and is currently trying to win a job with the Chicago Bears.

There is much unknown about Utah’s 2017 team, but being that I live life through Crimson-colored glasses, I am cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season.

What win total would constitute a successful season? What bowl game?

Vegas puts Utah’s win total u/o at 6.5, so, I guess 7? Seriously, I think 7 wins is do-able, although yours truly went full homer here. We’ve been pretty spoiled regarding bowl eligibility (last time we didn’t make a bowl was 2013), and I expect to be bowl eligible again this year. As far as which bowl? With this season being such a toss-up, I honestly don’t know. At this point, I will say making a bowl will be a success; achieving a ‘high tier’ bowl will be gravy.

What win total would constitute a failed season? What bowl game?

I will say less than 6 wins, and failing to make a bowl game.

What are you most optimistic about this coming season?

I am most optimistic about improvement in our offense. Taylor prides himself on having a scheme that is ‘intuitive’ in nature, and easily installed. His immediate success at EWU may point to this (although EWU was putting up video game offensive numbers before Taylor arrived, so ¯\(ツ)/¯), as does comments from the players themselves. I expect there to be growing pains, so I won’t hold my breath for averaging 60 a game, but even if we average half that, I think we have a huge (huuuuuuge) season.

What are you most apprehensive about this season?

Heh, is it weird to say … the offense? Dear Jeebus, if we just had an offense! Seriously, if Whitt can’t install a competent offense, the clamoring to replace him will grow to a fever pitch. I just hope people are a little patient with Troy Taylor, which I think they will be, since we have some very interesting prospects coming up at QB.

What do you expect to be the toughest game?

I guess this is a tie between USC and UW, which are both on the road. USC, because if we win, we have a serious chance at taking the south. UW, because I think they are the best team in the north (conference?). We were pretty close to beating the Huskies last year (but that was at the RES), and we did beat USC last year (but that was Darnold’s first game).

Incidentally, the game at Autzen is no gimmie – not sure how that one turns out. I appreciate what Taggart is doing in Eugene, and expect Oregon to be contenders under him. Will that happen year one? We will see. Also, I think Taggart’s decision to kick Carrington out was the right one, and I respect him for setting a tone for your program. I also think it’s great that Whitt feels comfortable taking a chance on this guy. Whitt has a big heart, but he’s nobody’s fool, and will not be made to look like one. Rest assured, Carrington is on an extremely short leash at Utah.

What could be a potential trap game?

Oh, geez, what isn’t a trap game in this conference? Rich Rod has had our number for quite some time; Zona isn’t in a position to contend this year, but … Todd Graham is pretty good at stealing signals, and playing in that heat is brutal. UCLA is loaded with talent – will their breakout game be against Utah? I don’t really worry about our OOC schedule this year, but, we do seem to have WTF losses every year.

Are there any injury or depth concerns heading into the season?

Our super-stud-strong-safety Chase Hansen just went down (hernia surgery is the rumor); return ETA unknown. His presence in an already young secondary will surely be missed.

Who do you think will win each division?

I think UW takes the north and USC takes the south – although, if we beat USC, Utah takes the south!!!

Who will come in last in each division?

Zona and Cal

How do you think your in-state rival will finish?

Steeped in self-righteous denial and delusional grandeur – regardless of their record.

Previous Figgis Forums:

Arizona

Arizona State

California

Stanford