2011 was one wild year which mostly turned out bad for Utah sports teams. The lone exception was BYU Cougars basketball, which enjoyed unprecedented success during the year, riding Jimmer’s coattails all the way to the Sweet Sixteen.
And then there was the Utah Jazz, a team that underperformed beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, en route to a horrible season and not much to play for in 2012.
But that’s why New Year’s resolutions are here, to wipe the slate clean — if only for a few days after Christmas — and to give the team you root for, hope.
After all, isn’t that what the holidays are all about? Here’s to new beginnings…
Utah Jazz: More wins than losses.
No sports team in Utah dealt with more adversity. In a two week span they lost their coach, their star, and their identity. Jerry Sloan up and quit. Rookie Derrick Favors and veteran guard Devin Harris came over in the trade that sent an unhappy Deron Williams to New Jersey. The Jazz then hired a new head coach from their own ranks in assistant Tyrone Corbin. And what was once a program going up just as recently as the mid-2000’s has come crashing down, into a flaming pile of you know what. The Jazz won’t be winning a world championship anytime soon, but it would be nice if they won more than they lost. In a shortened 66-game season anything is possible…if only you believe.
BYU Cougars Basketball: Win without Jimmer.
Ah, life must go on without Jimmer, that one name wonder who graced Provo with his saintly presence and swished threes from half court. Alas, who shall replace him? That title is left to Matt Carlino, a transfer from UCLA who shows all the signs of being the next Jimmer. He takes as many bad shots as good, he turns the ball over often and he is an offensive machine. Like Jimmer he has boyish good looks and women are already piling into the Marriott Center popping their Carlino No. 10 jerseys at the sign of a TV camera. There is that other guy named Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock aint bad either but the main attraction at the Saturday matinee is Carlino and will be until the curtain closes on his career.
Utah Utes Basketball: Survive first Pac-12 season.
What a thing to ask of a first-year coach like Larry Krystkowiak. First, two-thirds of your returning players leave in what seemed like the middle of the night. Your former head coach burned so many bridges that instead of talking the returning players into staying — you give them a hall pass to leave. And then, it all happens in such a short recruiting window that the only players left are walk-ons and transfers from Division II and III. By the time Coach K came aboard, even the JUCO’s were gone. Talk about having a lot to deal with. But that’s not even counting his other real problem: the Utes are now in the Pac-12. Jump for joy! So this season is literally, and figuratively, a quest for survival, and nothing more.
Utah State Aggies Basketball: Forget about loss to K-State.
The Utah State Aggies had everything going for them last season: 30 wins, a WAC conference title and a ticket to the Big Dance. It’s just that the promoters of this dance forgot to mention that the Aggies were as revered as Bo Diddley Tech and so Utah State had the pleasure of playing Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Though head coach Stew Morrill stewed about the Aggies’ misfortune to anyone who would listen the Ags held tough for as long as they could before the Wildcats simply outmuscled Utah State. That after-effect has carried over to now as the Aggies have started the season with five losses in its first 13 games. Those five losses already dwarf the three Utah State had for all of last year.
Real Salt Lake: Redemption in CONCACAF Champions League.
Real Salt Lake sure tasted the sweet nectar of the soccer gods last season, coming within one win of capturing the CONCACAF Champions League title. Had RSL won they would have played in the recently concluded FIFA Club World Cup in Japan, possibly against the likes of Barcelona, the team that won the world title. But the team that stood in RSL’s way — and irritated anyone who even partway liked the claret and cobalt — was Monterrey. The Mexican champions strutted into town on their chariot, stayed in the opulent Grand America Hotel and disrespected RSL every chance they got off the field while being complete jerks on the soccer pitch. Wouldn’t it be dandy to get another shot at the Rayados in the next CONCACAF Champions League?
Utah Blaze: A playoff berth.
The Blaze enjoyed plenty of postseason success in the Arena Football League under former head coach and Dallas Cowboys legend Danny White. But after a brief hiatus, a cozy stay at the Maverik Center in West Valley City under different management and now another turn at Energy Solutions Arena — again under new management — the Blaze look like they’re here to stay. A Blaze game is like a rock concert, complete with all the ear-splitting decibels you can fit into the cavernous space on Karl Malone Drive. And the football isn’t bad either — the Blaze came within one win of the AFL playoffs last year and even more is expected from them in 2012.
BYU Cougars Football: A Heisman for Riley.
If you would have told anyone associated with the BYU football program that Riley Nelson would have been the starter by the end of this football season they would have said you were headed for the State Hospital, which incidentally is in Provo. Speaking of nonsense, is it any coincidence that the biggest spewed all season came from Jake Heaps? He predicted the Cougars would win a national championship and then acted like a spoiled brat to the point where he alienated his teammates. In stepped Nelson, a transfer from Utah State who knows something about letting people down. His defection south made him look like an idiot at first, but eventually time healed all. After he led BYU to a miracle comeback win over Utah State, the job was his and Heaps the prodigal son was transferring to Kansas. Now Riley’s being mentioned as a Heisman candidate…next year.
Utah Utes Football: A Rose Bowl berth.
After starting out the season with such shame the Utes made up for their horrible play in the first half by reeling off four of five wins to end the year. If not for one bad play against Colorado the Utes would have won the South Division and played Oregon for the opportunity to represent the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl Game. It would have been an amazing feat had Utah prevailed, considering it was the Utes’ first season in a new conference. But it didn’t turn out that way; Utah lost 17-14 to the Buffs in a new rivalry game that nobody wanted and they got a trip to El Paso and the Sun Bowl. But for a defense that ranked in the Top 10 all year and for a team losing its starting quarterback to a shoulder injury early in the season, all the Utes are thinking about next year is redemption — and Pasadena, the second time around.
Utah State Aggies Football: A second consecutive bowl trip.
Utah State’s football future is bright. A new contract is in place for head coach Gary Andersen and it has two good prospects at quarterback in Adam Kennedy and Chuckie Keeton. Those positives far outweigh the Aggies’ negatives, which include their best running backs either leaving early for the NFL (Robert Turbin) or graduating (Michael Smith). Even with a whopping 24 players leaving the program by graduation or on their own accord like Turbin, Utah State is loaded. Andersen has made sure that he’s stockpiled talent — and he had the unique opportunity to give his younger players some reps during practices leading up to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the first time the Aggies went bowling since 1997. Though Utah State came up short losing to Ohio in Boise it’s obvious this team is headed in a positive direction and that may mean bowling again in 2012.