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SALT LAKE CITY — The transition to the Pac-12 wasn't expected to be as difficult as it has been for the University of Utah. Coming off a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama, the team was optimistic the chips would fall into place. But Utah didn't account for an offense that would be in flux every year since the 2008 season.
Utah had high hopes with starting quarterback Jordan Wynn leading the Utes into their new conference. But reality quickly sank in as Wynn was sidelined with injuries in back-to-back seasons and the team was left with junior college transfer Jon Hays to lead the offense.
Along came freshman Travis Wilson, and the future looked bright. Under his first starting season in 2013, Wilson began extremely well with high efficiency ratings and overall offensive stats. As the season progressed, however, Wilson had his struggles. But it remained clear Wilson was still the future of the program and had a lot of potential.
Unfortunately for Wilson, and the Utah football program, he was diagnosed with a pre-existing medical condition following concussion testing after the Arizona State game, and now his career may be in jeopardy.
"The medical staff is proceeding to make sure that everything is done in the proper order and in the proper way," head coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday. "It could be career ending, we'll find out."
The team doctor said Wilson will need another evaluation in approximately three months, but playing football is a possibility pending the stability to an injury of an intracranial artery.
Although the health concerns of Wilson take top priority, the university is now forced to assess its future with a figurative blindfold. Whether Wilson will return is unknown, but the game won't hold as the university attempts to move forward. Upcoming opponents Washington State and Colorado will not take it any easier on the Utes because its starting quarterback is out.
Washington State needs one more win to become bowl eligible, and Pullman, Wash. is not an easy place to play. Colorado, too, is looking to spoil Utah's chance at post-season play, and have been a thorn in Utah's side since the Buffaloes beat the Utes in 2011, keeping Utah out of the inaugural Pac-12 Championship game.
In the interim, Utah will put its season on the shoulders of walk-on sophomore Adam Schulz. Although Schulz has the arm strength, his ability to maneuver out of the pocket isn't as effective as that of Wilson's. Nevertheless, Whittingham said he is confident in Schulz's ability under center.
Adam's numbers were not indicative of how he played because there were five or six drops, balls that should have been caught, which would have improved his numbers greatly.
Against Oregon this season, Schulz was 13 of 30 for 181 yards and one touchdown and one interception. Despite a loss, Schulz kept the offense moving against the Ducks and brought the Utes within 3 points twice.
"Adam's numbers were not indicative of how he played because there were five or six drops, balls that should have been caught, which would have improved his numbers greatly," Whittingham said.
Fortunately for the Utes, the quarterback pool is deep with several talented options as it moves forward. Behind Schulz, Utah would be forced to burn redshirts for either Connor Manning or Brandon Cox if they must play. But Whittingham has no plans to use either Manning or Cox unless Schulz is injured.
"We've had that discussion with Connor Manning. If he has to play he has to play; unforeseen things happen," Whittingham said. "The plan was to redshirt him, but we made a decision to not tamper with that barring unforeseen circumstances. And these are unforeseen circumstances we're in right now. If something happens to Adam, it's Connor. And if something happens to Connor it's Brandon Cox."
Utah will travel to Washington State Saturday where a win will get the Utes one step closer to bowl eligibility. And given the adversity the team has faced this season, a win Saturday would do more for team morale than a typical victory.