Even though Utah finished 5-7 for the second year in a row, Whittingham maintains the Utes are a better team than they were in 2012, but he knows Utah fans want to see that improvement in the final results.
"It's not about being close; close doesn't cut it," he said.
Utah's biggest concern is its quarterback situation. The Utes won't know for three months whether Travis Wilson can resume his career after post-concussion medical tests revealed he has a condition in an intracranial artery that forced him to cut short his season.
Whittingham said if Wilson can play, he'll resume his role as Utah's starter. If he can't, the Utes must hope a starter emerges in spring.
"We have to proceed like he isn't coming back because if we don't, it could be a really bad situation," Whittingham said.
Sophomore Adam Schulz, who started Utah's last three games in place of Wilson, will have that experience working in his favor, but freshmen Connor Manning and Brandon Cox will get a look as well.
Whittingham said Schulz made progress in his development and gave him credit for being tough enough to handle the hits he took Saturday and remain in the game, thereby preserving the redshirt status of Cox and Manning.
"A lot of other quarterbacks may not have been able to come back after what happened to him," Whittingham said. "He is a tough individual and understood the situation as well."
Schulz, who finished Saturday's game 19-of-33 for 233 yards and a touchdown with an interception, brushed off his own situation to focus on the team's.
"We'll use this as motivation for the offseason," he said. "We didn't get to a bowl game this season and we have to get to a bowl game next year."
The Utes didn't think they'd fall short of that goal after upsetting Stanford on Oct. 12, but Whittingham said the injuries to Wilson's hand played a big part in Utah's five-game skid.
"After the Stanford game I thought we had a lot of momentum and it just fizzled," he said. "We didn't get that win down there in Arizona and then … "
Whittingham didn't bother finishing his thought, likely thinking of the work ahead of the Utes. A priority for the Utes is recruiting to improve the receiving corps and secondary.
The Utes feel good about their line play, Whittingham said, but the lack of playmakers was evident in the skill positions with Dres Anderson and tight end Jake Murphy being the only consistent contributors in the passing game, a run game that lacked an identity and a secondary that came away with just three interceptions.
The list of areas in which the Utes must improve is long, but they don't have much of a choice, Whittingham said.
There is a lot of work to do, and the sooner the Utes get started with it, the better, which is why the Utes were hitting the recruiting trail on Sunday.
"There are some holes we have to fill," he said. "We have to get better in a lot of areas."