Utes' season resurrected with two blowout conference wins

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 05: Quarterback Jon Hays #9 of the Utah Utes drops back to pass during the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on November 5, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona. The Utes defeated the Wildcats 34-21. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

It's amazing what two weeks can do for confidence.

Just three weeks ago, Utah had endured their third consecutive blowout loss in conference play and looked poised for the first losing season in nine years. 

Then, during a perfectly timed blackout game against Oregon State, the Utes notched their first-ever Pac-12 win. A week later, they won their first road game in conference history and, in the process, created their first true win streak of the season.

That win against the Wildcats in Tucson puts Utah one win away from a bowl berth and in position to finish their inaugural Pac-12 season in fairly impressive fashion. 

All of the sudden, their game against UCLA this Saturday has a bit of edge to it. It's now between two streaking teams with identical records fighting for bowl position and, as unlikely as it may seem, a potential shot at the Pac-12 South. 

For both teams, that is remarkable because three weeks ago, they both fared about as well in their defeats - that is to say, neither showed up and were embarrassed on the road.

Since, though, the Bruins have rocked Cal (who beat Utah handily) and shocked division-leading Arizona State in the final moments Saturday night. The Utes managed a win over the slumping Beavers at home and then defeated Arizona (who beat UCLA handily) on the road. 

Now both teams enter this weekend's game with a bit of swagger and momentum and what once looked like a futile battle between two struggling teams has instantly become a pretty big game. Especially for the Bruins who, with their win over the Sun Devils, surged to the top of the division and because they own the tie-breaker, they're assured a trip to the Pac-12 title game if they win out. 

Who would have thought that possible three weeks ago?

Yet here we are. 

But there are other subtexts to this game. The most glaring, obviously, is Norm Chow, who coached at UCLA before essentially being fired at the end of last season and is now the Utes' offensive coordinator. 

Is this going to be a statement game for Chow or will Rick Neuheisel use it to prove he was right about Chow all along? 

Speaking of Neuheisel, after being thrown to the dogs in the wake of their nasty loss to the Wildcats a few weeks ago, he's now in position to do some damage and assure himself of a job next season. Every game is now vital to his employment and you've got to think that is at least hanging around in the back of his mind. 

Can he afford to lose this game? 

For Utah, it's a chance to guarantee bowl eligibility. All they need to do is find one win in their next three and they'll be bowling for the ninth straight year. It would be nice to get it out of the way right now so they can work on padding that win total, and potentially improving their holiday vacationing, as they're still vying for spots in the Holiday, Sun and Las Vegas bowls. 

But UCLA is going to be a tough opponent. They've got talent and now they're confident. This game won't be a romp, as was the case four years ago when Utah easily defeated the Bruins 44-6 in Salt Lake City.

Of course, that season the Utes also finished with four losses, battled injuries, had a couple horrific defeats and rebounded late to finish with a respectable record.

Maybe history'll repeat itself? 

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