Everybody around here always wanted his or her college football team to be taken seriously — and, now, if it wins, there will be a lot less laughing. The problem, though, is there will be a lot less winning, too. So everybody’s back to square one.
That reality has pretty much dawned on the Utah football program. The days of blowing down the road on the fumes of 2004 and 2008, when the Utes beat opponents, with a few exceptions, that nearly everyone on their current schedule would beat, are gone. Without straining to reach back to LaVell’s prime time, remember when BYU a number of seasons ago went unbeaten in conference through consecutive seasons and its coaches and fans yearned to be seen for what their team really was?
Careful what you yearn for.
As for Utah State? Well … that’s a trip in the DeLorean.
At BYU and Utah, there are no feel-good delusions anymore. The hard truth comes faster and with less forgiveness in 2013 than it ever has. If either were to go undefeated, the questions of legitimacy that used to haunt them after every win … wait, don’t even go there because victory like that is inconceivable.
Utah stepped up to the Pac-12 a couple of seasons back, but this time around, it gets Oregon and Stanford in addition to the rest of the tests that left it with a losing record last year. A real trouble spot for the Utes is finding a way to win league games on the road. In 2013, they don’t leave the state of Utah until more than halfway through October, which is nice for them. But thereafter, in the heart of their season, they go to Arizona, to USC, to Oregon. Other roadies include BYU and Washington State.
At home, they face Utah State, Oregon State, UCLA, Stanford, Arizona State and Colorado. Throw in the Weebs the second week of the season, and that’s it.
So, where are the wins? Last year, Utah lost to USU, ASU, USC, UCLA, OSU, UW, UofA and EIEIO. The Utes were 3-6 in conference and 5-7 overall.
If they get more than six wins this fall, it will surprise Old McDonald and anybody else who’s been paying attention, and that includes the gift win from Weber State. Colorado and Washington State should be room service, too, but … we know how that first one went against the Buffs at Rice-Eccles in 2011.
BYU has finally grown up as an independent, at least with its intentions. The Cougars still have some dogs on the 2013 sked, but many of those schnauzers from previous years, when Bronco Mendenhall took whatever kind of win he could get and treated it as though it were absolute proof the Cougars really were big time, are no longer in play.
The kind of hocus-pocus that allowed the Cougars to win 18 games over the past two seasons, including victories against Central Florida, Idaho State, Idaho (twice), New Mexico State (twice), Hawaii (twice) and Weber State has been interrupted. Half of BYU’s wins in transition weren’t on the level. In 2012, a terrific defense was wasted on a schedule — and an offense — that was beneath it.
In 2013, there’s still Idaho State and Middle Tennessee State, but there’s also more toughs, including Texas, Boise State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame. Two of those four are at LES. The second tier features Virginia on the road, Utah at home, Georgia Tech at home, Nevada on the road and Utah State in Logan.
The Aggies also are taking it up a notch this season, moving to the Mountain West, which isn’t great, but it is considerably better than the WAC. That 11-2 season of a year ago, while a fine accomplishment, was marked down for a league schedule that served up far too many automatics. Toss in Southern Utah, and USU beat the Thunderbirds, San Jose State, New Mexico State, Texas-San Antonio, Texas State and Idaho by the combined score of 255-70.
Now, Utah State, after losing its head coach, turns into the path of road games at Utah, Air Force, USC, and home games against Boise State and BYU. League matches with New Mexico, Hawaii, UNLV, Colorado State and Wyoming are … what they are.
The truth, then, with the Utes is this: They are looking straight into the teeth of another 5-7 season, maybe worse. On the optimistic side, maybe six wins. BYU, even with the leftover breast-fed triumphs, might go just barely over .500. Dreamers see maybe seven wins. The Aggies have the best shot at a stellar record, but they walk in the same shadow that BYU and Utah wandered through in their better seasons back when they longed to be taken seriously.
Nobody around here will be No. 1. Everybody will be at square one.
Gordon Monson hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.