SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Sports) - Barring an unprecedented situation in which a 5-win team makes a bowl game, Utah will be home for the bowl season for the first time in a decade. At 4-7, even if Utah beats Colorado in its season finale Friday, they will end up with its first losing season since 2002.
"It sucks," said wide receiver Kenneth Scott. "We're not used to losing like this in this program. We believe that we're winners. It just sucks that we have to end the season like this."
"It's real frustrating," added defensive tackle Tenny Palepoi. "The expectations for us coming into the season were high, and not living up to them is a real downer."
Asked if this has been his most difficult season, head coach Kyle Whittingham said, "without a doubt. It's been the most frustrating, the most difficult, most trying season. It's a challenging profession. It's not always going to be just how you like it, but we'll be alright."
"It's really disappointing," said quarterback Travis Wilson. "This program has had great tradition of making it to bowl games and winning bowl games, so it's definitely disappointing and I'm disappointed with myself."
So what went wrong for the Utes, who were picked to finish second in the Pac-12 South Division? For one thing, the teams in the conference got a lot better, while Utah did not show much improvement.
"I think the league is much better this year than it was last year across the board," said Whittingham. "We're still working very hard to get to the level that we need to be at, but we're not there yet."
Offense was the primarily problem with the Utes all year, ranking last or near the bottom of the Pac-12 in virtually every offensive category. But Wilson wasn't even supposed to play this year, but when Jordan Wynn got injured and Jon Hays faltered, the true freshman was called upon to lead the offense. All that considered, Wilson did a very respectable job.
"Consistency was a big problem all year," Wilson said. "Next season, we just have to make sure we're more consistent in the passing game and the running game. We're going to work hard in the off-season to try to improve that."
"We definitely need to move the ball better," added Whittingham. "But, we've seen progress throughout the year."
Perhaps the most shocking part of Utah's fall from grace was the performance of the defense. Loaded with such talent as Star Lotulelei, Joe Kruger, Eric Rowe and Brian Blechen, the Utes defense did not perform as well as expected.
"There were times that we flashed the top Pac-12 defense," said Palepoi. "But then there were times where we kind of laid down and let teams run all around us. That's been the key story this whole season is the lack of consistency."
"It's a bottom line business," said Whittingham. "You are what your record says you are, and right now we're not very good."
Utah still has one more game to play this Friday at Colorado, and while they are not treating it as a bowl game, they do want to end the year on a positive note.
"The message is that we need to finish on a positive, particularly for the seniors," Whittingham said. "We wanted to have the seniors go out on their home stadium on a positive note, and we didn't get that done. But we've got one more opportunity."
After that, a long off-season begins.