As the introductory post for the now, equal opportunity Academically Ineligible, I had initially considered doing an overview of spring football and the upcoming season. However, after further consideration, I’ve decided to do away with that and dive right into the heart of the biggest concern and gripe for Utes fans coming into this season. Of course, I’m talking about quarterback and who is to start this coming fall.
The Utes essentially have three options for quarterback this year; start Jordan Wynn, Jon Hays, or start the popular pick among the ever-opportunistic fan base, a freshman. Though the choice is a popular one, starting a freshman might not be the best option for Utah football and I’ll tell you why.
The least glamorous and least likely of scenarios will be to start Jon Hays. Hays, while serviceable last year, was anything but spectacular. During his tenure as Utah’s quarterback beginning in the second half of the game vs. Washington, Hays played the season with a 56% completion percentage, for 1459 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. While Hays was rarely a cause for a Utah loss (the three interceptions against Cal notwithstanding) he was also rarely the reason the Utes were able to pull out victories. Largely carried by an offensive line and running game that set single season rushing records for Utes football last year, Hays often left fans feeling the anxiety of ill-thrown balls, and wishing for even Tim Tebow-style accuracy. Hays, who was not recruited by a division I school coming out of high school, was a fill-in quarterback, and it is unlikely anybody believes him to be the quarterback of the future.
The most popular fan vote seems to be starting one of the up-and-coming freshmen, and as a Utah native, the popular vote goes to Chase Hansen. Hansen, who crushed EVERY single Utah high school football passing record last year, comes into spring camp determined to remain at the quarterback position. However, as Utes fans may remember, Brian Blechen also came into camp his freshman year as a quarterback. Kyle Whittingham is notorious for recruiting athletes, and often converting them to positions he feels they’re best suited for, but with stats like Hansen’s, he may be one to avoid a position shift, and remain at quarterback.
In his senior year at Lone Peak High School, Hansen threw for 3066 passing yards, 38 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. Sure, he’s playing against lower competition, and his numbers will drastically shrink in his first year as a starter (if he were to become the starting quarterback) but the numbers are substantial enough to illustrate he has the skill-set to be a productive quarterback. Oh, and did I mention, Hansen can run too! Rushing for 1404 yards and 16 TDs, Hansen produced a cumulative total of 4470 yards, and 54 touchdowns. With production like that, it’s easy to see why Utah fans are eager to see this kid in action.
The other viable freshman candidate to be the starting quarterback is Travis Wilson. Wilson was ranked the 11th best overall quarterback by Rivals.com coming into this year’s recruiting season. Wilson comes from the football powerhouse state of California. Out of San Clemente High School, Wilson’s story largely mirrors Hansen’s, as he set school records in passing yards with 4320 (career), total offensive yards at 5244, and total touchdowns at 49. While height isn’t an issue for Hansen, Wilson towers at 6’6’, giving him a slight advantage in seeing down the field over the beefy boys in front of him, and releasing high enough to avoid more tipped balls at the line.
Did we just step into Oakland? We may well have if Coach Whittingham starts Jordan Wynn. Utah fans have been calling for the benching of Wynn since his “sophomore slump” in 2010. Week 1 vs. Division II Montana St, Wynn throws for 15 of 23 for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns, and by the time the game is over, Utah fans are already booing Wynn for his lack of down the field passing and awe-inspiring plays. Despite an almost 2:1 touchdown to interception career ratio, and completion percentage of about 60%, not to mention marquee victories against #15 Pittsburgh and Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl, Utes fans have had about all they can stomach of quarterback Jordan Wynn. Unfortunately, for the Wynn haters, they may have to continue sipping the Hater-ade for another season.
All indications for the 2012 season seem to point at Jordan Wynn as the starting quarterback, although as Utes fans have seen before, Coach Whittingham isn’t opposed to changing it up mid-season. While the majority of fans seem to be in favor of a changeup, I’ll give you a few reasons why having Wynn remain in the starter role may actually be beneficial for the Utes in the long run.
The Case for Jordan Wynn
First, Wynn has the experience. Not only has Wynn been faced with situations where he has been booed by his own fans, but he’s been the starting quarterback in some high pressure games. While losing, Wynn’s first game against a top 5 opponent, TCU, resulted in 219 passing yards, and a touchdown with one interception. Furthermore, no one will forget his gun slinging accuracy and performance against Cal in his debut bowl game. Throwing for 338 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception, Utes fans believed Wynn was their next big quarterback and the best chance at returning to the Brian Johnson glory days.
Second, with Johnson coming in as the youngest offensive coordinator in Utah history, and no experience running an offense, an established quarterback is exactly what the Utes need to have a successful season. With a rookie coordinator and a freshman quarterback, you become extremely young and inexperienced. While he hasn’t been the most flashy and number producing quarterback, Jordan Wynn has been a leader for the Utes for the last three years. Leadership, and the ability to have a team figurehead, is something new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson will need to rely heavily on.
Finally, Wynn needs to start to ensure the future. One of the biggest contributing reasons to the problem encountered last year when Wynn went down was a lack of interest in quarterback recruits. Starting a freshman quarterback sets a standard for future recruits of entitlement that can ultimately leave a negative taste in everyone’s mouth. For a close by example, just look to the Jake Heaps debacle in Provo over the past two seasons. To continue generating top quarterback prospects, staggering the starters is imperative. Letting Hansen and Wilson sit the year, gain experience, and then opening the competition next year, allows for next year’s incoming prospects to find themselves in a similar situation a few years later.
All in all, the quarterback situation on the hill is an intriguing one, but one thing is for sure, if it isn’t working Whittingham will find a way to fix it. Personally, I think Wynn is the way to go for the season, but it’s definitely the minority opinion among Ute fans.
I’m interested in hearing all of your opinions on the matter, feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts on Utah’s quarterback for the upcoming season.