The boss asked me to look into a crystal ball and predict what will happen with Utah, BYU and Utah State football in 2012. My immediate response: "What … am I Madame Zelda?"
Actually, I knew a Madame Zelda actually, it was Donna once, a trippy old lady who lived down the street from my family when I was a kid. She was some kind of mystical, soothsaying, palm-reading, star-gazing, fortune-telling clairvoyant who was bankrolled by a wealthy husband who pretty much ignored everything she said.
It was believed that Donna got more than half her predictions right, and I was never completely clear on where the Mendoza Line of Legitimacy was for psychic-spiritualist types who foretold the future. I did know that she gave out two full-sized Snickers/Three Musketeer bars at Halloween and had to respect the woman for that. If memory serves, she got the Kennedy assassination right, but missed on the start date for the outbreak of World War III, which she had pegged for the spring of 1975.
As I think about it now, batting better than .500 sounds pretty darn good.
In August, I predicted that BYU would go 9-3 in the 2011 regular season, that Utah would finish at 8-4 (nobody could have seen that Colorado loss coming), and that Utah State would qualify for a bowl game.
I also predicted that Jake Heaps would have a monster year … and maybe he did, depending on how you define the word monstrous. I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore. … errrr, never mind.
Anyway, reception for the fall of 2012 on my new iCrystal Ball 4500 Razor is coming in loud and clear. Here's what's on deck for the coming season …
What matters most all three of those schools are going to continue their upward climb.
Here's the thing about Kyle Whittingham, Bronco Mendenhall and Gary Andersen, they have their programs headed in a positive direction and there's no reason to believe that will change next season. None of those teams will be great, but they will be good enough for fans around here to feel OK about what's going on.
The Utes got their baptism into the Pac-12 and figured out, the hard way, what the ground rules are.
Rule No. 1 they can't take weeks off.
The early losses to USC, Washington, Arizona State and Cal set down the competitive parameters for the Utes, but did not rob them of their confidence or willingness to work.
They fought back against some of the league's lesser teams before dropping that exploding egg at home against Colorado, a team to which they had no business losing. It cost them their chance at the title game, but it taught them that every team in the Pac-12, no matter how seemingly harmless, has enough athletes to be dangerous.
One of the trademarks of Whittingham's teams is their no-quit attitude, and that was clearly on display in the Sun Bowl, when Jon Hays led the Utes back to victory against Georgia Tech after falling behind by two touchdowns in the second half. That kind of fight emanates from the head coach, and it's not likely to disappear anytime soon.
Utah will battle again next year, and with more quarterback options in the tank, and John White in the backfield, and Kalani Sitake running the defense, there's no reason to believe the Utes will suffer any letdown.
Whittingham will have to select the right offensive coordinator to replace Norm Chow there's no telling what might have happened to the offense through this past season's adversity without a calm, veteran hand on the wheel in order to weather the storms of the near future.
This is what I see the Utes doing exactly that, plowing through more familiar waters this next time around and making safe harbor with a slightly better record than this most recent run.
They lose some key players on offense and defense, such as Derrick Shelby and Chaz Walker, Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen. But they have learned enough lessons, and have many playmakers returning, so that if they get improved play out of their quarterback, be it Jordan Wynn, Hays or one of the incoming freshmen, they could be a strong threat in the South.
And they will be.
BYU is coming off a year in which it lost to the better teams on its schedule Texas, Utah, and TCU and with a couple of exceptions Utah State and Tulsa in the bowl beat only the bad ones. The question still floats, then … was the Cougars' 10-3 record a function of vast improvement or a soft schedule?
The answer both.
The official sked for 2012 hasn't yet been released, but it looks to be more challenging, with road games at Utah, at Boise State, at Notre Dame and at Georgia Tech. After the roll the Cougars got on this past season against teams from Region 2 of the 5A prep classification, they deserve a shot to really test themselves next season.
There will still be Weber State, New Mexico State, San Jose State and Idaho mixed in, remnants of BYU having to hurriedly fill its independent schedule, and that month of November once again looks bleak for fans hungry for real competitive entertainment down the stretch.
But BYU can add a bit of luster and meaning to those crap games a la the Edwards years by winning the biggies, at least enough of them to legitimize the breezy parts of their schedule. The Cougars get two home games against Pac-12 teams Washington State and Oregon State they will beat. But they are bound to lose three of the aforementioned roadies, maybe four.
Any team that has Kyle Van Noy on defense and Cody Hoffman on offense has to be taken seriously, though. With seven or eight starters back on each side of the ball, BYU will be good next season, a respectable team, a fun team to watch, but it won't finally do what for the Cougars thus far has been undoable make a BCS bowl.
It will make the Poinsettia Bowl.
And, for another year, that will have to be enough.
The iCrystal Ball Razor 4500 has them at 8-4, possibly 7-5.
Question would or should Utah State have been a preseason Top 25 pick had Robert Turbin returned for his senior year?
Quit laughing, it might have. Although Turbin will be in the NFL, the foundation for future Aggies has been set by a significant culture transformation in Logan. Despite the loss of Turbin and linebacker Bobby Wagner, there's a lot of talent there, as well.
Andersen has the building blocks in place to win the WAC even though they play Louisiana Tech on the road which might not seem all that impressive, but for the Aggies the measure of that truth is relative. They've come a long, long way.
Not long enough to beat Wisconsin on the road, but every other opponent had best bring its best against USU, including Utah at Romney Stadium and BYU at LES, in order to beat the Ags.
This much is certain Chuckie Keeton becomes a star in that new spread offense.
I see Utah State with just three losses in 2012 and a conference championship. Is the iCrystal Ball on the fritz? No. Its picture is sharp. Now, if it would just spit out a full-sized Snickers and a Three Musketeers.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.