Utes look for strong finish to inaugural Pac-12 season

Utah football can climb to .500 in Pac-12 play with a victory over Washington State Saturday. More importantly, they can guarantee the program a ninth straight winning season - the longest such stretch since Ike Armstrong roamed the sidelines during the Roosevelt era. 

That all seemed unlikely a few weeks ago when the Utes dropped to 0-4 in the Pac-12 and sat at 3-4 on the season. Since their defeat to Cal, though, everything's gone right for the streaking Utes and they hope that carries over into this weekend's contest against the now hot Cougars. 

Washington State, of course, is coming off a stunning victory over the Arizona State Sun Devils, a team that soundly beat Utah earlier in the year. The victory revived bowl hopes for the struggling program and though they will need to win out (against a schedule that includes Utah & Washington, so no easy task), it at least gives them something to play for this late in the season. The last time Wazzu played a truly meaningful game in November was in 2007 - or Bill Doba's final season in Pullman. The Cougars would finish 5-7 and the losing season all but sealed Doba's fate. 

Paul Wulff finds himself in a similar position this weekend. Another losing season, his fourth in four years, could ultimately spell his demise as Wazzu's head coach. I'm sure his team knows this and, as is always the case when you're facing a coach on the hot seat, the closer you get to the end of the season, the more likely it is the team circles their wagons.

Sensing their backs are against the wall, it's not hard to imagine the Cougars throw everything possible at Utah.

It doesn't hurt that they've got a bit of momentum out of last weekend's game. Of course, UCLA found themselves in a similar spot last week and it didn't help them much in their 31-6 loss to the Utes. 

Maybe we'll see something similar play out tomorrow? 

For Utah, a victory would give them their first truly impressive win streak since rattling off eight straight last year. It would also give them a winning road record on the season (4-2), which, all things considered, would be pretty damn impressive.

Victory would also help bolster Utah's bowl hopes. The more games the Utes win, the most enticing they are to the bigger bowl games. Some are even speculating Utah's lined up for a spot in the Holiday Bowl, which would be a fantastic first-year destination for the program.

A loss Saturday, though, and a game against the Big 12 (Texas, maybe?) could be replaced with a trip to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl where they would play a ... WAC team. 

No bueno.

So this is a pretty big game for both teams. Sure, the Utes have already guaranteed themselves a bowl berth, but this program is far enough along where we strive for more than just bowl games - even if, a few weeks ago, we didn't fully expect to play in the postseason.

Regardless of that, Utah is in good position to not only make a run at nine wins, but potentially play in a bowl game that pays out 1.3 million more than what they saw last year in the Las Vegas Bowl.  

Not too shabby.

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