Utah State coach Matt Wells is tormented by injuries. BYU’s Bronco Mendenhall is wondering if he’ll ever beat Utah again. Utah’s Kyle Whittingham is worrying about another horrible start in Pac-12 play.
This is a good time of year for me because I know I’m not the only one around here who’s continually talking to himself. Here’s a transcript of one of my recent conversations at the midpoint of the college football season.
Question: Now that USU’s Chuckie Keeton is injured, who’s the best quarterback in the state?
Answer: Judging by how they played against Utah State, anyone would be happy with either Utah’s Travis Wilson (17 of 28, 302 yards, two touchdowns) or BYU’s Taysom Hill (17 of 31, 278 yards, three TDs). If the choice is the QB who completed 35 percent of his passes through three games or the guy who threw six interceptions against UCLA, that’s probably a tie as well. Give me Wilson, barely.
Q: Amid the high-profile suspensions of BYU players, what’s the greatest act of forgiveness you’ve witnessed?
A: The rationalizing of Wilson’s interceptions. Sure, there should be some context to statistics. Yet if he gets credit for all 54 yards on the swing pass that Dres Anderson took for a touchdown vs. UCLA, Wilson can absorb some degree of blame for those six picks. Having said that, his illness must have had some wearing effect that night. After an 11-of-14 start, Wilson finished 11 of 30 with five interceptions.
Q: You’re always saying the breaks eventually even out in football. Any examples?
A: Oct. 5, 2012 — Hill absorbs a clean hit from USU safety Brian Suite and is sidelined for the season with a knee injury. Oct. 4, 2013: In the second quarter, Suite is hurt while making a tackle. Having thrown for 56 yards to that point, Hill passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns in Suite’s absence.
Q: How about updated rankings of the August list of the coaches you most would want to be?
A: No. 1, Southern Utah’s Ed Lamb. Likely winning season, little pressure. No. 2, Mendenhall. Nobody on BYU’s remaining schedule appears overwhelming, and he gets his buzzwords on the players’ jerseys this week. 3, Whittingham. The state championship is worth only so much, though. 4, Wells. A good agent would have negotiated a Chuckie Clause in his contract. 5, Weber State’s Jody Sears. Five losses by a combined 255-41.
Q: So now that Keeton and two other USU offensive starters are out and former Aggie savior Adam Kennedy is Arkansas State’s quarterback, how are you feeling about that Boise State guarantee?
A: Yeah, I’m still promising the Potato Blight will end this month, after the Broncos have beaten Utah schools in 20 consecutive games. Somehow the Aggies either will rise up in Logan or Bronco Mendenhall will overcome the Broncos in Provo.
Q: Utah’s FBS schools are a collective 9-7, and 14-14 when counting the FCS teams. What’s the worst loss?
A: Definitely BYU at Virginia. Since their season-opening 19-16 win, the Cavaliers are 0-3 against FBS schools, including losses of 59-10 to Oregon and 48-27 to Ball State.
Q: What’s the bowl outlook?
A: The Utes (3-2), Cougars (3-2) and Aggies (3-3) all will become eligible with six or more wins, or somebody will have produced an epic collapse.
For Utah, not qualifying would mean finishing 2-7 or worse in Pac-12 play. Since the league went to a nine-game schedule, no team has gone 3-0 in nonconference play then won two or fewer Pac-12 games. That would make the whole state look bad.
Only once, in Gary Crowton’s second season (2002), has BYU started 3-2 or better and not qualified for a bowl.
USU would have to go from 11-2 last season to 5-7 or worse, meaning two or more losses to downtrodden Mountain West teams. I have enough belief in Wells as a rookie coach, Mendenhall as a defensive coordinator and Dennis Erickson as a co-offensive coordinator to keep these teams from completely crumbling. In Utah’s case, though, landing a bowl bid may require a vacancy outside of the Pac-12’s affiliations.