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Utah football: 60% of Kyle Whittingham’s wins come against losing teams

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Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham leaves the field at half against Utah State in Logan  Friday, Sept. 7, 2012.

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham leaves the field at half against Utah State in Logan Friday, Sept. 7, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Editor's note: A graphic representation of Whittingham's record can be found at the end of this article, and a complete statistical analysis in spreadsheet form can be downloaded from the link in the left hand column of this page.

The University of Utah is looking to snap a two-game losing streak Saturday against Arizona State. The loss against USC dropped its overall record in conference play to 8-15 in 2.5 seasons in the BCS league.

Those eight wins are against teams with a combined mark of 31-63 (32.9 percent) after each season concluded. The Utes' recent upset against then-No. 5 and now No. 6 Stanford is the first and only win against a team that will have finished above .500 by the end of the season. In the 15 setbacks, Utah has lost by an average score of 31-17, including 10 defeats by double digits.

Is the subpar product on the field a result of inferior talent in a more competitive conference? Or do Kyle Whittingham-coached teams struggle against quality opponents in general?

At first glance, Whittingham’s resume is impressive. He has accumulated a 75-36 record since inheriting the program in 2005 and is 7-1 in bowl games with two BCS victories, including the 2005 Fiesta Bowl.

However, when looking deeper, it can be argued that his record is inflated with wins against slumping programs. How much has the 2008 season and a 6-3 record against BYU improved his image?

In his 70 total wins (omitting FCS), 42 have come against teams below .500 when the season finished (assuming Utah State finishes with a winning record in 2013) — 60 percent of his total victories. Even more telling is that 34 were earned against teams that had lost eight or more games that season (48.5 percent).

Assuming Utah State finishes above .500 in 2013 and, again, excluding FCS, Whittingham is 26-28 against teams that finished with winning records. Omitting 2008, he’s 20-28 and subtracting bowl games further, he's 14-27 (31 percent). Whittingham is 3-4 against teams that will finish with a winning record this season, again including Utah State.

During the Sugar Bowl season, Whittingham earned six victories (including Alabama) against winning teams, and in four — Air Force, Oregon State, TCU and BYU — along with New Mexico, the Utes found a way to win late.

Excluding 2008, Whittingham-coached teams have a 16-16 record in games entering the fourth quarter separated by one possession, and a 2-7 mark in the same scenario against Pac-12 opponents since joining the conference.

During the regular season, Whittingham has defeated a team that finished the season with eight or more wins 13 times, but, apart from 2008, only twice — against TCU in 2006 and BYU in 2011 — has he beat a team that won at least 10 games. Also not including 2008, Whittingham's teams have lost to the team with the best record on its schedule every year. (All three statistics might improve with the Stanford win.)

Omitting FCS and 2013, Whittingham's 67 victories are against teams with a collective record of 349-477 — a 42.2 win percentage. In that same time span, Whittingham has tallied wins against 18 teams that played in a bowl game later that season, with Air Force and BYU accounting for eight (44 percent).

Whittingham’s 7-1 bowl record also manifests the same trend. Other than the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, each opponent entered downtrodden.

In 2005, Georgia Tech lost three of its last four games. In 2006, Tulsa lost four of its last five games. In 2009, California beat one ranked team all year and lost four games by a combined score of 30-145. Then, in 2011, Georgia Tech lost five of its final seven games. Other than Alabama, the only opponents on the rise the Utes defeated in a bowl game was five-loss Navy — they had won four straight — and Boise State in 2010 — a game the Utes lost 26-3.

Since Utah's 2011 entrance into the Pac-12, all but four coaches have gone: Whittingham, Washington’s Steve Sarkisian, Stanford’s David Shaw and Oregon State’s Mike Riley. Oregon’s Chip Kelly left for the NFL, but the other seven coaches were fired.

The Pac-12 lacks patience, and with another slow start into conference play, is Whittingham’s seat getting hotter?

Email: tphibbs@deseretnews.com; Twitter: @phibbs_