Last year, with the Pac-12 South in their sights, the Utah Utes stumbled, at home, to a team that hadn't won on the road in like a decade or something (not really, I think it was 2007 - but still). The loss dashed any hope of playing in the Pac-12 title game and really soured what was turning out to be a pretty good inaugural season.
Entering the season, the expectation, or at least anticipation, was that the Utes could contend with Arizona State for the division crown. USC wasn't eligible, UCLA was UCLA and no other program looked like a legitimate threat. For a moment, the Sun Devils appeared to have the South all but locked up - but, in typical ASU fashion, they crumbled and that opened the door for the Bruins and Utah. Who would have guessed, after it was all said and done, that it would be those Bruins who came out on top?
Of course, they ultimately fell into the Pac-12 title game and were ill-equipped for the Oregon Ducks, who pretty much rolled over them.
This year, the general consensus seems to be that the Utes will contend with USC for the division crown. Arizona State is rebuilding, UCLA is still UCLA and no other program looks like a legitimate threat. Will it be different this time around or are we doomed for the same results?
It should be different, but we should also expect the same results in the sense that it would take a mighty bit of luck to end up in the Pac-12 title game. But unlike last year, it shouldn't be because Utah shot themselves in the foot at the very end. It should be because the Trojans are a legitimate championship-caliber team and beating them will prove difficult. Beyond that, finishing with fewer conference losses than they do will prove difficult.
But that doesn't mean the season will be lost if, like last season, we're watching another SoCal team play Oregon in the title game.
Remember, even if Utah had defeated Colorado, they would have entered the title game with a 5-4 conference record - hardly what you would expect from a division champion (well, unless you're the ACC).
This year, I expect, or at least hope, for a better overall conference record, even if it doesn't net 'em a division title.
Just eyeballing the schedule, I'd say the Utes finish either 6-3 or 7-2 in the conference, which should be good enough for 2nd place to USC - a much more respectable record than what they produced last year.
So, where do you anticipate Utah will finish in the Pac-12 South?