Why Ute fans should be optimistic, despite the easy schedule

Utah has been slammed the last couple of weeks because of their rather pathetic early schedule. It is true they have played absolutely no one since the season started. Their one chance at a good win, against Pittsburgh to open the season, looks rather average now with how poorly the Panthers performed last week against Miami.

Of course, it isn't necessarily your schedule that matters, rather what you do with that schedule. In this regard, the Utes have been extremely successful. Outside their closer than it should have been win over Pitt, they've cruised in all their victories. 

Sure, the opponents have been weak and that inflates their rate of success greatly. But remember last year and how most of us were left wondering after weeks of play just how good this Utah team could be? 

They struggled through some ugly wins and though they finished 10-3, they were a couple plays away from finishing 8-5. 

They were also a few plays away from finishing 11-1. 

So there really wasn't a wide gap between average, good and stellar. The Utes finished just good last season and we're hoping this year they can reach stellar status. 

Now you can make the claim the Utes' first four games were a bit more difficult last year than they were this season. Maybe slightly, but the difference isn't really all that great - which makes Utah's more dominant wins that much more assuring.

In fact, let's take a better look at the first four games of the 2009 season. 

Opponent Record Wins
Utah State 1-3 Southern Utah
San Jose St. 1-3 Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo
Oregon 3-1 Purdue - Utah - Cal
Louisville 1-3 Indiana St.

Teams in bold are wins.

As you can see, Utah's three wins came against teams that were a combined 0-9 against FBS teams. This year, it's not much better, as UNLV is the lone program with a win over a FBS team.  So that makes it a pretty comparable schedule.

What isn't comparable, however, is the way Utah won its games then and how they're winning them now. 

Opponent Score Margin
Utah State 35-17 +18
San Jose St. 24-14 +10
Oregon 24-31 -7
Louisville 30-14 +16

 

Okay, so here we have a better look at Utah's struggles. For starters, after four games, the Utes were averaging 28 points per game. It's not an awful number, but against teams like this, you'd expect maybe that number would be a bit higher. 

This season, Utah is averaging 44 points per game. That's 16 more than they averaged at this point last year against a fairly comparable schedule. 

Beyond that, though, the Utes' average margin of victory (not counting the Oregon game, which was a loss) was only 14 points. Two scores. It's a decent margin - but again, against these types of teams, it should have been far greater. 

This season, Utah's margin of victory is 31.5 points. That is more inline with what you'd expect against those types of teams. 

They are dominating games they should dominate and that is something the 2009 Utes rarely did. In fact, after week four, they almost lost to a horrid Colorado St. team in Fort Collins. It wasn't until they faced New Mexico toward the end of the season that the team finally blew a lesser opponent out of the water. 

In 2010, they've done that three out of four weeks - two wins which came without Jordan Wynn

The good news in all of this was just how close the Utes were in 2009 to being a great team. Had their offense found a sliver of the offensive fire power we've seen this season, they probably knock off Oregon in Eugene and then beat BYU to end the season. That would've put their record at 11-1 (assuming they played Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl) and I think we would have looked at that season as one of the best in recent history. 

But because the offense often struggled through parts of games, that never materialized and we had to settle for a rather mundane 10-3 season that wasn't really made until the bowl game. 

This year it's different. When Kyle Whittingham hinted at Utah potentially having the best offense ever here, we laughed.

But who's laughing now? Oh sure, the offense is producing great numbers against bad teams, but Whittingham's M.O. was never on the offensive side. The Utes had a decent offense in 2008, but it wasn't what made them special. Outside of 2008, they were hardly ever explosive. In 2007, it was the defense that got them through the winning streak, not the offense.

That's where 2010 feels different than 2009. This isn't the first time Utah has played bad opponents. But this is the first time under Whittingham the team has A) averaged 40+ points per game and B) scored 50+ in consecutive games. 

The last time any of this happened was in 2004 - the season where Utah established its best offensive performance ever. 

Even in 2008, the best team of the Whittingham era, the Utes scored 50 or more points only twice and it wasn't until the very end of the season that they saw their second 50-plus game. 

This year, we've done it two weeks in a row. I'm guessing, since there are other bad opponents left on the schedule (CSU, BYU), they have the potential to do it again. 

Ultimately, Utah still hasn't proven they're a legitimate top-fifteen team. That will come. But they've proven their offense is leaps and bounds better than last year. With how close they came to being really good in 2009, that offensive success could be the difference between 2008-like results and what we saw last year. 

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