The 2019 Utes are the best Utah football team in school history.
(And Kyle Whittingham just piloted his Harley straight off the road into a Rubber Rabbitbush.)
Yeah, yeah, that declaration has argument plastered all over it, from port to starboard, from stem to stern. And, man, it’s a beautiful thing to even have such a prospect, ridiculous or otherwise, run across the collective bow.
It’s an absolutely irresponsible, premature thing, too. But where’s the fun in waiting? Better to acknowledge and appreciate it while it’s unfolding rather than dust it off after it’s all said and done. Let’s add this little caveat/escape clause: … if the Utes win the rest of their games.
Based on their performances over the past month and a half, it’s not horribly difficult to edge in that direction.
In its last five games, Utah has allowed opponents a mere 51 points, while scoring 179 itself. It has the No. 1 rush defense in the country, yielding all of 56 yards per game and 2.4 yards per carry. It ranks third in total defense, fourth in third-down conversions, seventh in scoring, ninth in first downs allowed and interceptions. Its defense has scored four touchdowns, which is third most in the country. In eight halves this season, the Utes have held opponents scoreless and they have yielded a total of 44 points in the second halves of nine games, while they themselves have put up 123.
That Utah offense ranks fourth in completion percentage, second in fewest interceptions, second in time of possession. And we haven’t even mentioned Zack Moss, yet.
When it comes to this sort of lofty comparison with other all-time Utah teams, the two unbeatens immediately come to mind — the 2004 (12-0) and 2008 (13-0) Utes. Granted, it’s subjective and maybe wrong. The nod here between those two goes to Alex Smith’s group, while the 2008 team accomplished more and provided the most memorable win in school history — the Sugar Bowl blitzing of Alabama.
But if the 2019 team can finish the way it appears capable — by beating UCLA, Arizona and Colorado, then by surprising a lot of folks by downing Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game, then by either winning the Rose Bowl or — hold onto your shorts — qualifying for the college football playoff, who will argue then?
That’s a whole lot of work ahead. And while Utah’s coaches and players must require of themselves staying focused on the next immediate task at hand, the rest of us can see things for what they are and wonder about what they might be. The Utes — and this is the entire point here — seem to have the talent and the depth to pull this stuff off.
They have a quarterback who is playing better than any Ute QB since Smith. They have the best running back in Ute history. They have receivers that are exceeding what anyone expected of them. The have an offensive line that is coming into form for all to see, despite injuries. They have a defense loaded with future NFL players.
Tyler Huntley not only ranks third in the nation in yards-per-pass attempt, and fifth in pass efficiency and completion percentage, he proved on Saturday that he can win a huge game. Without him, it’s doubtful, even with the defense slamming doors on Washington’s attack, that Utah wins that contest. He missed on one pass in the second half and threw for nearly 200 yards over those final two quarters.
Jaylon Johnson and Leki Fotu and Bradlee Anae may form the best three-headed defensive core ever at Utah, bolstered by guys like John Penisini and Mika Tafua and Julian Blackmon and Francis Bernard, among others.
Since the 2004 and 2008 Utes won all of their games, and even if the 2019 team wins out, there is the question about what happened against USC at the Coliseum, Utah’s one blemish thus far.
The response here is that the earlier greats didn’t face a week-by-week regular-season challenge like the Pac-12 offers, even in a so-so year. Playing in the Mountain West, those unbeaten teams dusted mostly inferior foes. The 2004s downed a 7-5 Texas A&M team and 6-6 North Carolina at Rice-Eccles and 3-8 Arizona on the road, as well as a bunch of MWC teams, most of which had losing records and none of which had a record better than 7-5. They defeated overmatched Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl. That team was led by Smith and Eric Weddle.
In 2008, the aforementioned argument is tougher to make. The Utes beat a 3-9 Michigan team on the road and 9-4 Oregon State, 11-2 TCU, and 10-3 BYU at Rice-Eccles. That team had Brian Johnson at QB, Matt Asiata and Darrell Mack at running back, Freddie Brown and Bradon Godfrey and Brent Casteel at receiver, and on defense there was Paul Kruger, Koa Misi, Sealver Siliga, Stevenson Sylvester, Robert Johnson and Brice McCain, among others.
Hmm. That’s fast company.
Still, if the 2019 Utes win out, regardless of whether they get voted into the CFB playoff, taking the Pac-12 title and the Rose Bowl would reach beyond anything Utah football has previously achieved. That might be unpopular because messing with history is touchy business, and it could be arguably incorrect. But, even with one loss, their season, at least from this corner, would be the best ever.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.