The Utes look for a bit more consistency this Saturday as they take on what could be the worst team in the nation. New Mexico, who only a year ago nearly upset Utah in Albuquerque late in the season, has fallen to 0-8 and stand a real shot at going winless for the first time since 1987.
For Utah, though, the questions this week don't really center around the Lobos. No, instead, we're focused on the brewing quarterback battle between Terrance Cain and Jordan Wynn. Cain had started in Utah's first seven games, but was pulled at the half of last week's game against the Wyoming Cowboys as the Utes fell behind 3-10 before rallying in the second half behind the arm of Wynn and the ground game of Eddie Wide.
That set in motion the current position Kyle Whittingham and the Utah offensive coaching staff finds themselves in entering the final four games of the 2009 season. It's also that coaching staff that has some questions of their own - like who will finish out the year as Utah's offensive coordinator.
In a surprising move prior to the Wyoming game, Whittingham pulled Dave Schramm from the box and let wide receivers coach Aaron Roderick - who had been pegged to be co-offensive coordinator with Schramm before he left Utah for Washington and then returned - call the game. His first half performance was mixed, especially with the poor play of the offensive line (though that falls on coach Blake Miller), but the second half looked far more consistent and smooth. Which explains the 19-second half points. A far greater improvement over their three in the first half.
It's those two news stories that obviously will dominate the discussion this week and you've got to wonder if it could throw Utah off their game heading into what many consider a near automatic win. If that's the case, are the Lobos capable of beating the Utes?
The short answer to that, of course, is a no. If they did, it would be considered one of the biggest upsets in recent college football history. I mean, it isn't like the Lobos are a close 0-8 here. They've lost a lot of games by a lot of points and aren't a very good team. In fact, last week's performance against San Diego State was probably their best of the season and that was against an Aztecs team that has won only 4-games.
Beyond that, New Mexico ranks dead last in the Mountain West in points per game (15.5), yards per game (306) and points given up in a game (35). They are lucky enough to be second to last in yards given up (413). The Lobos can thank UNLV for that.
Because of this, I believe Utah will actually have a great performance this week and dominate from start to finish. If they don't, well then, I think the team is probably destined for a poor finish and a no-worse than 9-4 record. That wouldn't be horrible for a rebuilding year, but it probably means they finish unranked (which could hurt their standing entering next year) and they will have ended the year winning only two of their final five games. Not the type of finish we're used to seeing under Whittingham.
This makes Saturday an important setup game for Utah, especially if they're breaking in Wynn. TCU will not be easy and I know some Ute fans are already conceding a loss, but I never, ever concede a loss to anyone (even though I might predict it...but that isn't the same, trust me), so I look at this game as a possible tuneup to the biggest Mountain West game EVER (well, at least since last year's Utah-TCU contest). That means they can't amble through another game against another bad Mountain West team. If they do that, I don't think they'll be mentally ready for what the Frogs have to offer.
And it's that mental toughness I think Utah needs to work on, specifically on offense. The Lobos, whose defense is rather poor (and that's putting it nicely), should offer Utah a way to work out those kinks. Will it be enough to beat TCU? Who knows. But a solid performance here would give Utah their sixth win in a row and surely move them up in the rankings. That puts them in a good position entering a game that will decide the Mountain West.
Not bad for a rebuilding year.
Utah wins if...They pretty much show up. The Lobos are the worst team Utah will face this season (and that takes into account Utah State, San Jose State and the faltering Colorado St. Rams). No excuses here for this even being a game entering the fourth quarter.
New Mexico wins if...We enter some weird alternate universe where the Lobos are actually good and Utah is actually bad.
What will happen...I'm going to be bold here. I think Utah comes out fired up and rolls New Mexico easily. It'll be the best - and least satisfying - victory of the season. They'll kick ass from start to finish and finally put together a complete game. Utes win 42-10.
Give me your predictions.