It's been a tough week for the Utes. We all knew that Utah's inaugural season in the Pac-12 wouldn't be a cakewalk, but it's hard to imagine these results. I, for one, thought that Utah would be somewhat competitive even in the losses, and that has not been the case. There is still time to salvage the season, but the prospect of that happening look pretty slim.
So I started wondering how they would compare with the teams in the MWC. Utah finished the season 10-3 last year, with their only conference loss being to TCU...what would that have worked out to in the Pac-12?
As a reminder, here's my definition of the quality of the team in each tier, and a quick synopsis of what I think "The Grind" is. I added a couple extra to capture the bottom half of the MWC.
Tier 0 — Elite team. This team doesn’t lose a game, might have a "scare" from a Tier 2 team at worst…national championship material.
Tier 1 — Great teams. These are the teams who finish with 11 wins, go to a BCS game…finish in the top 10.
Tier 2 — Good teams. These are the teams who finish with 8-10 wins, finish ranked in the top 25 or just outside at worst.
Tier 3 — Above average teams. These are the teams that finish with 6-7 wins. Some will make a bowl game & possibly make it to 8 wins, but won’t be ranked.
Tier 4 — Average teams. These are the teams who will win 3-5 games.
Tier 5 — Below average teams. These are the teams who win 1-2 games. (Keep in mind that if they were in the MWC…these teams would likely finish with 4-7 wins)
Tier 6 -- Poor teams. A team that finishes with 0 wins in the Pac-12...(would finish with around 2-3 wins in the MWC)
Tier 7 -- Terrible teams. A team who finishes with 0-1 win in a non-AQ conference.
During "The Grind", a team from a tier up to two below your team's tier could beat you. That would be credited to "The Grind" (CLICK HERE to read more about "The Grind"). So a Tier 1 team might lose to a Tier 3 team…but never to a Tier 4 or 5.
A Tier 3 team might beat anyone or lose to anyone from Tier 1 to Tier 5…creating that "Middle" in the Pac-12 that is so hard to predict. Even a Tier 2, ranked in the top 25, team has the potential to lose to an average team.
…and with rivalry games, all bets are off. That is the nature of a rivalry.
So on to this week's Tier's, after the jump...
Stanford - With Oklahoma & Wisconsin losing, it looks like the Cardinal have a clear path to the national championship. OkSt is behind Stanford in the Coaches, and are only leading in the Harris by 36 points. Even if Stanford doesn't make the jump, the computers would likely make up the difference in the end. The other unbeaten teams (K-St. & Clemson) aren't likely to make the jump over Stanford either.
Next week @ USC will be a test, and Oregon still looms...but at this point, it looks like Stanford vs. LSU for the Crystal Football.
Oregon - Probably the only team left on the schedule who poses a legitimate threat to Stanford...but they will need James & Thomas to get healthy in order to make it a real game.
Boise St. - Interesting to see them get a scare from Air Force. I wouldn't be surprised if they lost to either TCU or SDSU. Perhaps the BSU fan base will start to recognize the step up in competition from the WAC. Personally, I don't know that moving to the Big East is the answer either. Once the Big East gets gutted, that conference will not be as good as what the MWC is offering.
ASU - BYE week for the Sun Devils. They're still ranked, & I see no reason to drop them below a team they beat. Should be relatively smooth sailing to the Pac-12 championship game.
USC - I know the Golden Domers aren't what they used to be, so this might not appear to be that impressive of a win...but consider these 2 things; it was on the road, and that Notre Dame will likely finish the season 8-4. I'm guessing USC should finish 9-3 and will likely be the team to beat in the South next year.
Washington - Looks like the Huskies haven't really arrived yet. Certainly Stanford is one of the best teams in the country, but UW's defense isn't strong enough to keep them in the game with the upper tiers. They'll get an opportunity to prove me wrong vs. Oregon & USC, but I think we'll see the Huskies finish the season 8-4, with a chance to play in the Holiday Bowl.
TCU - This isn't the TCU of '08-'10. Still a good team, but benefits from playing in the "non-grind" that is the MWC. I anticipate a 9-3 season and meeting Cal in the Vegas Bowl.
Cal - Mostly impressive win. I don't want to take anything away from beating Utah, but I'm pretty sure that Hays & Tedford had a back room deal :-) Regardless, Cal planned & executed a perfect defensive plan that held Utah to a miserable 32 yards of offense in the 1st half. 7-5 & a trip to the Vegas Bowl seems likely.
San Diego St. - Rocky Long is a very good coach, and SDSU has the talent to put a scare into BSU, finish the season 10-3 after their bowl game, and on the fringe of the top 25.
Arizona - Perhaps this is a bit high, but consider this...outside of Oregon St., the Wildcat's losses have come to 2 undefeated, top 5 team (OkSt, Stanford), & two 1 loss teams (Oregon, USC). According to Sagarin, they have played the 6th toughest schedule to date. With a QB like Foles, & WR like Criner, I could see them finishing the season 4-1 & bowl eligible. They'll get a chance to prove it next week...hopefully the suspensions don't end up costing them.
Utah - Utah teeters on the brink of missing a bowl game for the first time in 9 years. I still have hope that this team can get bowl eligible with a 3-2 finish, but that makes this week's Oregon St. game a "must win". They have enough talent to climb back into Tier 3, but they'll need to win 3 straight games to convince me of it.
UCLA - Well that was ugly. Seems like UCLA has one of those games in them every year...too bad they didn't save it for us. I'm guessing the Utah/UCLA game will be the defining moment of the season for both teams.
BYU - I thought I'd throw the team that nobody wants in to the mix just for fun. Did you know that they are the lowest 6-2 FBS team in Sagarin's rankings? I guess that's what happens when the teams you beat are a combined 11-25. Their schedule ranks 104th, and they're just barely getting to the creamy-puff section of the season. Yet I'm sure that these same BYU fans who called us overrated last year will be mighty proud if they manage to go 10-3 this year. BYU hypocrisy at it's finest. At least there should be a loss coming up this Friday.
Oregon St. - I think they're squarely in the 4th Tier at this point, but I also think they're the most dangerous team in the 4th Tier...as they just showed vs. Washington St. The schedule gets incredibly tough from here out, so if they want to capitalize on their momentum, it has to be in the upcoming game vs. Utah. I know I'm worried.
Washington St. - Same old Wassu...still an outside shot at getting bowl eligible, but likely staring down the barrel of a gun vs. Cal Nov. 5th. The upside may be that when they play Utah Nov. 19th, they'll have nothing to play for. The downside is that they will have nothing to lose.
Air Force - A bit of a down year for the Falcons...but perhaps only because they have been better than this for the past few years. The schedule eases up from here on out, and I think an 8-4 finish isn't out of the question.
Wyoming - They could be 5-1 right now if Utah St. didn't save all of the points they forgot to use during various 4th quarter collapses on them. Schedule gets tough for them from here out. I think 2-4 is realistic...but if they can beat either Air Force or SDSU, it may be their best season in almost 15 years.
Colorado - I think it's finally time we demoted Colorado. I see no real possibility of them beating a Tier 3 or higher team, although they'll get 3 shots in the next 3 weeks (ASU, USC, Ariz).
Colorado St. - Remember when Colorado St. was a top 15 team...if so, you must be getting old.
UNLV - Sometimes I wonder why a city like Las Vegas can't support a football program. I guess there's just more entertaining things happening on the weekend than football. They need a shyster, the football equivalent of Tark...I think Nick Saban fits the bill...he's pretty greasy.
New Mexico - Sagarin thinks they're the 2nd worst team in the FBS...I'd say he's wrong...they're the worst. What a mess that program has become. It's not like they were amazing during the Rocky Long era, but they were respectable at times. No wonder he got fed up & left. The issues there are clearly systemic.
So in conclusion, I said I was wondering where Utah would have finished in the Pac-12 last year...well, my thoughts are that 2010 Pac-12 Utes would have been an upper Tier 3 team...similar to TCU this year...and definitely better than this year's Utah team...all because of a quarterback.
...and contrasting this year's Utah team looks like they'd be similar to, or possibly a step behind SDSU. Likely an 8-4 team, with losses to Boise, TCU, SDSU and maybe Air Force or even Wyoming. Right now, I see Utah on the brink of 6-6/5-7...all hinging on what happens vs. UCLA.
So what are your thoughts?