Take a little bit of injury, mix in a non-performing senior, add a dash of urgency with a sprinkle of clamoring fans and what do you get?
Utah's starting quarterback Travis Wilson. True-sophomore Travis Wilson, that is.
Let's jump back to October 13th, 2012. Jordan Wynn has medically retired. Jon Hays has beaten rival BYU but also left coaches and fans wanting more in losses to Arizona State and USC. So the decision has been made – bring in freshman Travis Wilson and build for the future. Now let's answer some questions.
Should he have started against UCLA? Should he have started from the very beginning, or even red-shirted the year? Most importantly, did he make any real progress in 2012??
The questions surrounding Wilson were there from the very beginning going all the way back to his initial commitment to Utah. Things heated up a bit when he arrived on campus in the spring and exceeded the expectations of fans, scouts, and coaches alike. It all came to a boil when he tossed his first touchdown pass against Utah State, which was either the best thing or worst thing that could have happened for him depending on which side of the fence you find yourself on, and it never seemed to cool down from there.
It took five games, one injury, and a season on the brink but by mid-year the true-freshman was officially Utah's signal-caller – for better or worse.
Not everybody agreed with the decision initially, and some still question the move. Some doubted his abilities; others thought the timing was wrong; others still wished he would have redshirted altogether. Looking back, was it the right decision?
If you believe it was, then your reasoning likely includes the ‘future success' line of thinking meaning you believe the experience he gained this year will help him down the road.
If that is the case, then logically it would make sense that he progressed and developed as the season moved along, right? But was Travis Wilson really a better quarterback week 13 than he was week 7? I'm not so sure he was, and if he didn't progress throughout the year…well then what?
Let's look at some numbers to help bring some clarity to the discussion.
Wilson played in all 12 games this past season. Early in the year he was a decoy, a run-first player used in short spurts meant to give opposing defenses an extra wrinkle to defend. His role expanded against Utah State after Wynn went down when he was allowed to throw a few passes and even connected on one trick play for a score.
That didn't change over the next few games until the coaches finally decided it was time to make a permanent move. So for the sake of fairness, we'll look at his passing numbers starting with the UCLA game through the end of the season – a total of seven starts.
Against UCLA the big deal post-game was the fact that he threw for 220 yards, a feat never achieved by predecessor Jon Hays. The team lost the game and managed just 7 offensive points (scored with Wilson on the bench) but it was his first start so fans praised his potential and gave him a pass. He completed 23 of 33 throws and his completion percentage was good – 67% – but his 6.6 yards per pass was a glaring weakness.
Fast-forward to the season finale and the passing numbers looked like this: 13 completions on 25 attempts, 128 yards, 1 touchdown. 52% completion rate, 5.12 yards per pass. Seven games later and Wilson's numbers are worse, not better.
Did Travis progress? You can decide that for yourself. There is more to football than pure numbers but at the same time they can't be ignored. In his seven starts Travis Wilson completed 120 passes on 194 attempts for 1213 yards with 6 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. His 61.8% completion percentage is decent but his 6.2 yard per attempt average is nowhere near where you want it to be. To compare, the nation's top YPA was over 10 yards per pass – Travis Wilson ranked 92nd of 116 eligible quarterbacks in this category.
Should Travis Wilson have red-shirted the 2012 season?
The decision to play him and start him gave him valuable game-reps and experience, no doubt about it. Would Utah have earned a bowl bid had they stuck with Hays? That's impossible to answer for sure. Even if they did the outlook today would be very different with a RS-Freshman about to lead the team rather than a (somewhat)seasoned sophomore. Knowing what we know now the justifiable excuse to the 5-7 season is to say the experience gained was worth the sacrifice. But I ask you this – was it really? It's hard to say Wilson improved drastically if at all from start 1 to start 7, and if he didn't noticeably improve…what was gained?
Now don't get me wrong. Having those live game reps is not a bad thing. What comes next, though, is even more important. Beginning March 19th Travis Wilson must do something he failed to do last season – turn that experience into personal skill progression and production. That will be the key to his – and Utah's – future success.
Utah doesn't have the luxury of having a stable of prepared quarterbacks to fall back on if the Travis Wilson experiment fails. Now is his time to own the position. The team may have suffered because of his youth and inexperience last season, but there is no excuse for the same thing to happen again this year.
Heading into spring practices now just days away Travis Wilson has many questions to answer. Has he improved his game during the offseason? Can he shed his quiet personality and emerge as a team leader? Can he beat out the newcomers trying to usurp his position?
But most importantly: Was last season a wasted opportunity?
Only time will tell, but this may be the most important spring a Utah quarterback has faced in a very long time.
It should be fun to watch things unfold.
The Travis Wilson Experiment
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