The TribUte newsletter: How will history remember this Utah football team?

The Utes are still in the mix for the Pac-12 championship game, but need to win, plus get significant help this weekend to get there

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham shakes hands with the MUSS, after the Ute's defeated the Stanford Cardinals, 42-7, in PAC-12 football action at Rice-Eccles Stadium, on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022.

I wrote a story earlier this week about whether or not a nine-win regular season was good enough for the University of Utah, especially given the preseason expectations and who was returning from 2021.

A 9-3 mark following Saturday’s regular-season finale would almost certainly be viewed as a disappointment, but that is for each individual to decide for themselves. That said, I have a question.

How will history remember this Utah team?

Getting back to the Pac-12 championship game and back to the Rose Bowl remain on the table for these Utes, but for the purposes of this exercise, let’s assume that doesn’t happen. Seriously, how do you feel about this group?

Three moments come to mind immediately from 2022. The goal-line interception at The Swamp to open the season, fourth-and-goal at the 1 and the two-point conversion vs. USC, and the three interceptions at Oregon.

You’ll notice that two of the three instances mentioned there are negative. It’s sort of a shame my mind goes there first, because for multiple-game stretches of this season, Utah looked like the best team in the Pac-12. Things also felt like they were teetering for a lot of October, but the Utes came out of that mostly unscathed.

So, unless Utah wins the Pac-12 again and gets back to the Rose Bowl, yeah, I think this season has to be viewed as a disappointment, which is an interesting place to be if you’re Utah.

Imagine nine wins, and a potential 10th in a bowl game, not being enough to appease Joe Average Utah Fan.

Scratching out nine wins as a member of the Mountain West and winding up in the Poinsettia Bowl feels like a lifetime ago.

Other things on my mind

• The knock on last season’s Runnin’ Utes was they couldn’t shoot. A 33.5% clip from 3-point range across 32 games bore that out. Six games is a small sample size to make a firm judgment, but this team is having the same problem. Utah shot 4-for-19 from 3-point range Wednesday night in a 52-49 loss to Mississippi State at the Fort Myers Tip-Off, two nights after 5-for-16 from deep, but outlasted Georgia Tech anyway, 68-64. The Utes are not 32.7% from out there for the season, a number that is simply untenable if they want to take a step forward in the Pac-12 this winter.

The problem within the problem is that defenses are now starting to key a little more on Gabe Madsen, who had a hot start to the month, but shot a combined 3-for-17 from deep in the two games in Florida. Madsen can stroke it, but if he doesn’t have it one night, no one else has stepped forward yet with a consistent enough jumper to help.

• Utah football needs a lot of help to get to the Pac-12 championship game, although UCLA over Cal, Oregon State over Oregon, and Washington over Washington State is not that crazy. Before worrying about any of that, the Utes need to take care of Colorado on Saturday in Boulder as a 29.5-point favorite, which leads me to a thought.

Last week at Oregon was deflating. You could hear it in Kyle Whittingham’s voice on Monday, you could hear it from the players. I wonder how engaged Utah looks coming out of the locker room. The Utes are not going to lose this game, it’s more a matter of how hard they’re going to make it on themselves.

• Go look at Utah’s 2023 football schedule. It’s insane. Three questions right off the top before game dates are released in the next month or two. When is the bye? When is Utah’s last trip to USC for the foreseeable future? When is the trip to Washington?

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