Record: 7-5, 4-5 Pac-12
In its first year of Pac-12 play, Utah rolled three seasons into one and then ended badly, so it's a good thing there's a Hyundai Sun Bowl ahead to ease the embarrassment of a season-ending loss to Colorado.
The Utes started 0-4 in Pac-12 play and, yes, there was some crowing from the old-school Pac-10. While that was dreary, it also was clear the Utes weren't terrible: Their 3-0 mark in nonconference play include quality road wins at BYU and Pittsburgh, both bowl teams.
After quarterback Jordan Wynn went down with a shoulder injury in game four, three things become clear. The Utes needed to: 1. run the ball; 2. play tough defense; 3. protect the football. When they did all three this season, they won. When they didn't, they lost.
After getting crunched at California -- minus-four in turnovers -- and falling to 0-4 in Pac-12 play, Utah righted itself and reeled off four consecutive wins, which put them in the middle of the South Division race as Arizona State started to crumble.
In fact, all Utah needed to do on the final weekend of the regular season was beat lowly Colorado to win the South Division. But Colorado shocked everyone and ended a 24-game road losing streak with a 17-14 win.
Still, the initial verdict is fairly positive. While the grind of Pac-12 play is far different than the Mountain West Conference, it's clear that Utah can compete in the Pac-12. They figure to be a long-term fixture in the South Division race.
Offensive MVP: Running back John White, a first-year JC transfer, finished second in the conference with 117 yards rushing a game. He also scored 14 touchdowns, while becoming the only true offensive weapon for the Utes. Teams knew he was coming. Most couldn't stop him. The Utes were 7-0 when White eclipsed 100 yards rushing, 0-5 when he didn't.
Defensive MVP: Derrick Shelby, a first-team All-Pac-12 defensive end, had five sacks and nine tackles for a loss to go along with 45 total tackles, an interception and eight pass defenses.
Turning point: The 34-10 loss at Cal dropped the Utes to 0-4 in Pac-12 play, and coach Kyle Whittingham essentially counted the Utes out of the South Division race himself. But he also called a team meeting and allowed the coaches and players to clear the air. Four consecutive wins followed and a near-miss with the division title
What's next: First comes the Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech. Then comes an interesting spring practice when Wynn will need to come back and re-claim his starting spot at quarterback. Or will his replacement this year, Jon Hays, make a move? Or is there a wild-card transfer out there who might appear? In any event, with good talent on both sides of the ball scheduled to come back, quarterback(and OT) is the biggest question facing the Utes in 2012.