Even though Utah has struggled in Pac-12 play, thanks to their stellar out of conference record, the Utes enter November in prime position for a ninth straight bowl game.
With all that's happened, the injuries that have stacked up since the season began, I guess you couldn't ask for a better spot. 4-4 might not turn too many heads, but it puts Utah just two wins away from a bowl game and that ain't bad.
Of course, as we've seen in four of five Pac-12 games, there really is no gimmie on the schedule and it's going to take a strong performance these final weeks of the '11 season to gut out a bowl bid.
Are the Utes up to the task?
I think so. I've got faith that Kyle Whittingham can squeeze at least two wins out of this team. I said, prior to the Oregon State game, that Utah probably needed to win to have any chance at a bowl berth and, with a victory, I think they're on pace to do just that.
But it's not going to be easy. In fact, the Utes' next game should be their hardest of their final four. Arizona, who, just a month ago seemed completely moribund, has turned it around the last two weeks - even in defeat. They've got a powerful offense that should match up well against Utah's defense, since it relies more on the passing game, which the Utes have struggled against at times this season.
Even so, the Wildcats only enter Saturday's game as a 3.5 favorite and even if they have played well their last two games, they're still a 2-6 team that has to win out for any hope of a bowl game. That'll require threading the needle perfectly and, even though I think they're better than their record (their first-half schedule was just brutal), even with a win against Utah, I'm not sure they have what it takes to beat rival Arizona State.
But, until officially eliminated from postseason discussion, every game is now a must-win for Arizona. I'm sure, after their solid, though difficult loss to Washington last weekend, they'll come out fired up in hopes of inching closer and closer to a bowl berth.
For Utah, this game is not a must-win. Unlike last week, I definitely foresee a scenario where the Utes get to a bowl game with a loss this weekend. With that said, it would be nice to win this one. I think a win would not only indicate the team is, in fact, improving, but that they're probably, barring an ugly collapse, going bowling once again.
It would also be nice to start improving on the overall win total. Seven, eight or nine wins looks a helluva lot better than six.
For that to happen, though, the Utes are going to have to do more on offense. They can't rely on John White IV like they did against the Beavers in every other game this season. I get he's the guy who makes this offense go and when he struggles, so does Utah, but the offense is scarily one-dimensional right now. That's going to cost them a game or two in their final four unless fixed and probably give us a great deal of anxiety to boot.
So Jon Hays has to do more than just not turn the ball over. That's obviously step one to a good game, but in that second half Saturday, had it not been for the defense, the offensive's lack of sustaining drives could have taken what was a blowout and made it into a far more interesting game than what we eventually saw.
That means, for the Utes to finish strong, the offense is going to have to carry its weight all around - not just on the ground. Because 65 yards through the air is really walking on the razor's edge.
Hopefully Hays has gained some confidence though and can not only keep from turning it over, but also find a productive game through the air.