Recall, if you will, those days back in high school or college when you had a big test. Walking into the classroom, you probably felt more of a sense of peace if you had studied and prepared.
That was coach Kyle Whittingham and his Utah Utes program a year ago, on the precipice of beginning play in the new Pac-12. The Utes went 8-5, nearly backing into the conference's first championship game. Not too bad given the jump, right? The losses were not reflective of a lack of readiness, Whittingham said, so much as injuries -- namely at quarterback -- and a lack of execution.
"No surprises. Nope. Nothing," he said Tuesday. "We certainly did our homework. We had a good idea what to expect. I don't think anything caught us off guard or surprised us."
Flash forward a season, and the Utes could be in position to do some surprising of their own. Sixteen starters return from last year's 8-5 team, including an NFL first-round talent at defensive tackle in Star Lotulelei, a star at running back in John White and a battle-tested QB in Jordan Wynn. As we wrote when labeling Utah one of the nation's most underrated teams coming out of the first coaches poll, most BCS conference teams matching that profile would be getting some serious preseason buzz.
The Utes aren't, and one possible reason is the perception that they were overwhelmed in their first season in a BCS league. While there were certainly some adjustment issues for Utah in 2011, this isn't a program incapable of contending in its new conference. As Whittingham says, last year's struggles didn't have anything to do with a lack of preparation.
To read more from Travis Haney on the adjustments Utah and Colorado have made in joining the Pac-12 South, and why USC should be nervous about the Utes this season, you must be an ESPN Insider.