"Losing Brian has some repercussions beyond just this week," he said.
With the Utes potentially competing with other Mountain West Conference teams that have similar records for bowl spots, Whittingham suggested they could be left out because Johnson was the player most responsible for their most impressive accomplishments.
"Losing Brian obviously takes some of the luster off our appeal," he said. "There's a lot of bowls in the country that would like the No. 3 total offensive guy in the country coming to their bowl game."
The sophomore quarterback averaged 337 yards of total offense before suffering a season-ending knee injury in a 31-27 loss to New Mexico last weekend. He led the league in pass efficiency, ran and threw for 26 touchdowns (though he also threw seven interceptions and lost eight fumbles) and became the sixth Utah player to surpass 3,000 yards of total offense in a season, with 3,370 yards.
So how might the Utes market themselves, if they beat Brigham Young on Saturday to qualify for a bowl game with a 6-5 record?
"Our sales pitch is we travel well, and we're 11th or 12th in the country in total offense, as a team," Whittingham said. "We throw the ball, it's not a 3-or-4-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust type of offense. The showing that we made in the Fiesta Bowl last year may be attractive to somebody, knowing that we played well in that bowl game and that, historically, have played well in bowl games."
The Utes attracted a monstrous crowd to their historic Fiesta Bowl victory over Pittsburgh last season - most of Sun Devil Stadium in Arizona was wearing red - and have won four straight bowl games, as well as five of six dating to 1994.
Taking a chance
Maybe you saw him, dashing onto the field in the tense final minutes of the loss to New Mexico, trying to get in the game despite an injury before coaches called him back to the sideline.
Yep, receiver Brian Hernandez was ready to go.
Though he hadn't played the whole game because of a torn ligament in his ankle that is going to require postseason surgery, Hernandez was ready to bail out the Utes when it appeared they did not have enough receivers on the field deep in Lobo territory.
"We only had three receivers in the game, and I'm standing there, trying to get in," Hernandez said. "And coach goes, 'All right, go in.' But then, we ended up having four [receivers on the field], we just didn't see him. So, I was like, 'Dang it!' I wanted to be in there so bad."
Hernandez said it's a good thing he sat out against the Lobos, though, lest he not be able to play against the Cougars this week.
"I probably could have played, but it wouldn't have been good for me," he said.
The Utes have won three straight against the Cougars, and have not won four in a row since 1968-71, right before coach LaVell Edwards began his illustrious career at BYU.
Coach Bill Meek presided over all four of those victories, and remains the only coach in school history to have won his first four meetings with the Cougs. Longtime coaches Ike Armstrong and Jack Curtice each won three of their first four but had a tie in the mix - Curtice in his first meeting, Armstrong in his fourth - while Thomas Fitzpatrick won his first three before Armstrong took over in 1925.