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In rare cases, emphasis is needed to distinguish between conditional and past tenses of the word "had."

For example:

"What if Utah had a quarterback?" was one of the more popular topics among pipe-dreaming Ute fans until recently, when it might have been overtaken by "What if Utah HAD a quarterback?"

As in, "all along."

Granted, even Travis Wilson's detractors long admired him for his toughness, evident as soon as he hurdled a Northern Colorado defender on his first series as a Ute.

They liked him, and they hoped to see him succeed despite the distressing cost of being proved wrong.

But they were doubtful.

Then came Saturday.

What Kyle Whittingham describes as Wilson's "best game as a Ute" was one of the best games by anybody, anywhere, earning Wilson the honor of Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week.

He fired back-shoulder darts to the sticks. An in-stride swing pass. A heat-seeking fade. A needle that threaded tight coverage to the back of the end zone and a casual lob to the all-alone freshman he jailbroke with a hard fake to the flat.

The FOX broadcast showed him pepping up his offensive line, miming a sprinkling gesture — seasoning his duck soup? — and kneeling to breathe in the game's final moments.

The surfer boy from Southern California had twice ridden a wave of Ute fans across the Rice-Eccles turf, so he was no stranger to storybook breakouts.

But something about this felt different.

What is it about him now?

"Confidence, in a word," Whittingham said. "It's confidence. He's playing with more confidence and poise right now than at any point since he joined our program."

Wilson ranks No. 1 in ESPN's Total Quarterback Rating, which accounts for down, distance and field position on each play, as well as the quality of a team's opponent. Should he maintain his current score of 92.8, it'd be the third-highest since ESPN began keeping track, in 2004. No. 1: Russell Wilson in 2011 (94.1). No. 2: Andrew Luck in 2010 (93.8).

He's also met the goal set by co-offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick, who wanted his quarterbacks to complete at least 65 percent of their passes. The only times Utah has exceeded 65 percent, in 2004 and 2008, it's gone undefeated. Wilson sits at 68 percent, while Utah is 11th-best in the nation at 70.8.

That's a big spike — over seven points higher than his career average. Still, senior wideout Kenneth Scott scoffed when asked if Wilson is on a "hot streak."

"He is a great quarterback," Scott said. "He's mobile. He's 6-foot-7. He's got all these great attributes and it's all about us believing in him. If everybody believes in him, then his confidence is going to skyrocket, so that's what we've been doing."

It's natural then to wonder who might not have believed in Wilson. Last year, then-coordinator Dave Christensen twice snatched back the keys to his offense after repeated stalls. Nobody involved has publicly suggested that Wilson didn't get a fair shake, but Wilson did cite as a positive Monday that "it's not really a thought in my mind, 'Oh, if I make a mistake, I'm gonna get benched.'"

Utah's show of faith began in fall camp, when Whittingham said early and often that Wilson was Utah's starter, even if Kendal Thompson would be given the chance to unseat him.

He played Saturday despite a sprained non-throwing shoulder that admittedly grew sore after contact.

"Sore" isn't going to stop him, apparently.

"I think the offense feeds off of how I play," said Wilson, on pace to pass Brian Johnson for most starts (he has 30, Johnson had 33) and games played (37 to Johnson's 44) by a Utah quarterback.

Utah ranks just 83rd in total offense, at 394 yards per game, but it's 23rd in third-down conversion percentage (48 percent), eighth on fourth downs (89 percent), 17th in red zone scoring percentage (94 percent), 11th in time of possession (34:18 per game), 14th in fewest penalties (4.5 per game), third in sacks allowed (one) and, crucially, tied for fourth in turnover margin (plus-1.75 per game).

Scott said it's evident to him that the Utes are spreading the ball around more in the first year of Roderick and Jim Harding's co-coordinatorship, with eight or more receivers catching passes in each of Utah's first four games, and Wilson said he's grateful for flexibility to check into the read-option plays responsible for most of his 100 rushing yards in Eugene.

While Whittingham had expressed concern at the lack of involvement of Utah's outside receivers, Scott said the stats weren't telling the whole story. Utah was gaining yards on first down, so there was never a need to throw downfield, he said.

"[I'm] tired of people saying we've got no playmakers. We've got playmakers all over the field. Give us the opportunity, we're going to do it."

Scott said he knows it's coming his way when he gets a certain look from Wilson, who threw his first touchdown pass on a flea-flicker that Scott caught for his first touchdown reception in 2012.

It's one of a handful of Wilson highlights that you might have reasonably branded "unforgettable": He rushed and passed for over 400 combined yards and five touchdowns against Oregon State, stunned No. 5 Stanford, drove Utah for a last-minute score to beat No. 20 USC, threw consecutive overtime touchdowns to win in Palo Alto and was named Las Vegas Bowl MVP.

Add last Saturday to that list.

Now it's up to Wilson to ensure nobody forgets this time.

Kyle Goon contributed reporting.

Twitter: @matthew_piper —

Utah bye week

Players will not practice while coaches review film Monday through Wednesday and hit the road to recruit and evaluate preps Thursday through Saturday.

Next • No. 10 Utah hosts No. 24 Cal, on a new turf field, for its homecoming game. Kickoff is 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, and the game will air on ESPN.