Utah Utes Must Get Up to Speed Quickly

Handicapping News: Utah Utes Must Get Up to Speed Quickly

For many college football teams, September is just a month of warm-ups before things really get rolling with the start of conference play. For the Utah Utes, Friday Night's rivalry game against Utah State is the start of a five game stretch that is likely to define their season both in terms of bowl possibilities and their position in the suddenly electric Pac 12 South.

Take a look at this gauntlet:

  • Friday: Utah is -8 on the road against state rival Utah State. Home underdogs are always dangerous in this kind of spot. And, Utah State in particular has a chip on its shoulder here because these teams haven't even played since 2009. Utah went big time joining the Pac 12 while Utah State has been watching its own WAC disintegrate. Think the Aggies have a little something on their minds?

  • Saturday 9/15: Utah hosts BYU in what will be one of the most hardfought games in the region all year. BYU certainly impressed last week against Washington State in their nationally televised season opener. The Cougars know they have to win all of their high profile games now that they're playing an Independent schedule. Both Utah and BYU will desperately want this game. What is already a classic (and wild!) rivalry will be even more intense in this context.

  • Saturday 9/22; Utah visits Arizona State down in the desert. It's the Pac 12 opener, and it's going to come in an obvious letdown situation in front of an avid crowd cheering on their new head coach. This is three straight opponents who will have been specifically gearing up for their games with Utah. There is a bye the following week...which will hopefully lessen the possibilities for a lookahead too...

  • Thursday 10/4: Hello! It's USC coming to town for a nationally televised showcase that will have the whole nation buzzing. From the Southern Cal perspective, this is one of the most dangerous spots on their schedule outside of the meeting with Oregon. Barring upsets, they'll still be #2 in the polls when this game is played. HUGE game for the Utes if they have any hopes of being a Cinderella story in their half of the Pac 12 this year. What a great year to have season tickets to Utes home games!

  • Saturday 10/13: Utah visits UCLA in an obvious letdown spot off the big game with USC. And, of course, this is an improved UCLA team that also has a new head coach and a new attitude. If you assume that USC is going to win the Pac 12 South, then positioning just beneath them in the standings for bowl consideration is going to be based on what happens when the likes of Utah, UCLA, and Arizona State play each other.

That's the first half of the season. Not four games vs. cupcakes and then something easy within the conference. The five-game gauntlet includes: TWO big rivalry games, THREE important conference games, THREE games currently locked into national TV broadcasts with the possibility of more, TWO ROAD games against new head coaches trying to make immediate impressions, and ONE game in a desert!

BRUTAL!

Handicappers need to watch Utah-Utah State very closely Friday night with an eye toward evaluating their readiness for what's ahead. Is there a variety of weaponry? Is there toughness? Is there depth? Does a defense that ranked a solid 38th in the nation last year in yards allowed per game have the horses to ride out this storm? Look at the opposing offenses and coaches...that's a STORM!

The media made much of the disappointments in the Pac 12 last weekend. It should be noted that most of those were in the NORTH, where Oregon, Stanford, Washington, and Washington State all failed to cover their Vegas spreads, while California joined then on the non-cover list by losing outright as a home favorite to Nevada. In Utah's SOUTH...USC had a great first half vs. Hawaii, UCLA ran roughshod over Rice, and Arizona State put up big numbers in a tune-up against Northern Arizona. The South is where the action is...and Utah is about to be dropped right into the middle of the frenzy.

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