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SALT LAKE CITY — Now that college football sadly has ended, it's time to review the optimistic preseason predictions that came up short.
The 2021 season was one for the record books, collectively, for the three FBS programs in Utah. BYU, Utah and Utah State combined to go 31-10, with each team ending nationally ranked. Expecting a repeat would have been foolish, but it still was a surprise that only the Utes came close to fulfilling expectations.
With this in mind, let's start with the positive and then expand to the two programs that expected better. Note, the predictions were based only on the 12 regular-season games.
Utah Utes (10-4)
Any season that ends in a second consecutive Rose Bowl appearance hardly can be considered a disappointment, but another loss in The Granddaddy of Them All did make Utah's campaign less than completely satisfying.
The pick was 10-2, finishing second to USC in the Pac-12, with both teams playing for the conference championship under the new rules that eliminated the two divisions. In sort of contradiction, the Utes met but didn't fulfill expectations.
The season, during which the Utes experienced a wild array of emotions, was crazy enough to make sense in a weird way. The highest of highs came in October, when the Rice-Eccles Stadium crowd went delirious in a last-second win over previously unbeaten USC, followed by a plummeting low the next month in a soul-crushing loss to Oregon.
Yet, all that was lost in Eugene magically reappeared when Utah got the results needed in other games on the last weekend of the season to set up a much-anticipated rematch with the mighty Trojans. Proving the 1-point win seven weeks earlier was no fluke, Utah spanked the hype machine from Los Angeles.
Goal achieved, even if it wasn't entirely.
Despite some loyalists fantasying of a playoff run, Utah's priority was to win another conference championship and earn the right to win the Rose Bowl. But losing to Penn State, the third best Big Ten team, in stormy Pasadena, California, put a damper on the season.
BYU Cougars (8-5)
The Cougars didn't fall back into the mediocrity of 2018-19 but got close enough to cause concern going into the Big 12 next season.
The pick here was 9-3, figuring a returning quarterback firing to a plethora of weapons would be enough to cover for defensive deficiencies. Wrong on both accounts.
A midseason injury to quarterback Jaren Hall hampered the offense and exposed the coaching staff's distrust of his backups. No wonder the Cougars rejoiced at signing the much-traveled Kedon Slovis and junior college transfer Jake Retzlaff to compete as the starter next season.
A winless October forced coach Kalani Sitake to seek out new assistants to overhaul a defense that was shredded for much of the month. BYU coughed up seven figures annually to lure Jay Hill away from the great run he had as Weber State's head coach.
A former assistant at Utah, Hill tapped into his roots by hiring former Utah assistants Justin Ena and Sione Po'uha to help rebuild the defense. The three join Sitake, offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick and tight ends coach Steve Clark with experience working at Utah.
Utah State Aggies (6-7)
Blake Anderson's first season in Logan was all sorts of successful after beating two Power Five teams in a single season for the first time and capturing a Mountain West championship.
Knowing a repeat was nearly impossible, considering the Aggies won four games by a combined 13 points, the pick was still a decent 8-4. But a 1-4 start, including a 35-7 loss at home to Weber State, doomed the prediction before it gained any traction.
Months before the season even started, the program was forced to grapple with unimaginable tragedy when Anderson's son committed suicide. The grieving coach did an admirable job of leading his team to a bowl game, which by itself deserves some merit of success.