Here we are, the second half of the season, and Utah is surging toward another bowl berth. Haven't we been here before?
Yes, like last year, the Utes have decided to wait until there is few precious games left before making their run at a bowl game. They were fortunate to come in just under the wire last time, but they were aided by one extra non-conference victory and a schedule filled with three teams set to change head coaches - Arizona, UCLA and Washington State. This season, if Utah is to earn a spot in a bowl game, they will have worked for it and done something unthinkable only a few weeks ago.
The problem now facing Utah is that their room for error is very small. Though they don't have to win out to gain the necessary victories for a bowl game, they still do have to find a way to go 1-1 against a Washington squad that is always tough at home and, even though they got their clock cleaned this past weekend, a very improved Arizona Wildcats team in Salt Lake City. It wasn't that long ago most fans chalked those games up as losses and while our prospects have improved, it will still take impressive performances each and every week just to get to the point where a bowl berth is now a truly viable option.
Fortunately, based on the past two performances, this squad seems up to the fight. They could have rolled over and died after the Oregon State defeat - but they didn't. Instead, with the season on the line, they came back, overpowered two equally struggling teams, and propelled themselves into a season-saving position. Not bad for a program that looked positively unsettled after a string of four-straight defeats.
So, now that the prospects have brightened, are we at the point where it is a Bowl Game or Bust? I'm almost there. As much as I ruled out the possibility, or at least a good possibility, I've got to think finishing 5-7 now, after everything shown the past two weeks, would be underwhelming. Especially when you factor in that both the Huskies and Wildcats look pretty mortal right now. Those are two games that will be tough, no question, but they're also two winnable games ... or at least winnable to the point the Utes could theoretically split them.
If they do, and take care of business against a Colorado team that looks much worse today than they did a year ago (how that's possible, I do not know), a bowl bid is within reach and the program can salvage what was turning into a disaster of a season - even if that happens in Albuquerque against, I don't know, New Mexico.
Still, we can't get ahead of ourselves just yet. ESPN and College Football News still don't see Utah qualifying for a bowl game. Either they don't expect 'em to get in at 6-6, or they don't expect 'em to get to 6-6. Either way, these predictions are sobering because they come from points of view not invested in the idea of Utah succeeding. As a fan, we want a bowl bid, and we might talk ourselves up, inflate this team's quality, so that a bowl bid looks possible. But right now, on the national scene, that is not the case. These guys are saying, "hey, you've won two straight ... but don't get cocky."
And they're right. Who's Utah beaten? Both victories have been solid, no question, but do they really tell us anything outside the fact this team hasn't given up? To be sure, that latter point is important and it's great they've yet to throw in the towel and will go down fightin' until their knuckles bleed ... but it just might not be enough. The hole Utah has built itself the first-half of the season could be too big, too deep, for them to climb out of before the season ends.
That leaves 'em cornered and forced to finish almost as flawlessly as they did last season ... against a more difficult schedule.
This is what happens when you once again wait until the very end to make that final push. You're working on limited time and a teeny, tiny needle to thread. If that needle breaks, it's game over. We're lucky - last season, even with a loss to Colorado, the team was able to put in seven regular season victories. This year, a loss like that again, at the very end against the Buffaloes, could end any hope.
So, this season now comes down to these final three games. Is it going to end in disappointment, something that has been a common theme throughout 2012 ... or will Utah mirror their finish last year and extend their bowl streak to ten straight?
I wish I had an answer. I guess we'll find out soon enough.