Utah's season might be defined by their back-to-back games against the Southern California teams. Not only are both important for the overall standing of the season, but they will certainly play a role in how the division shakes out - as both the Trojans and Bruins are Pac-12 South rivals.
If Utah is going to have any shot at winning the division, anything worse than a split here won't cut it. That's a mighty big task, even if UCLA is coming off a disappointing 2011 season.
What we know is that, for all their faults last year, the Bruins did have talent. It showed at times in wins over Cal and Arizona State (back when the Sun Devils had yet to implode). Yet one of their worst performances of the season came against Utah in what was, at the time, a pretty big game for both teams. Though UCLA was able to back their way into the Pac-12 title game because of the Utes' loss to Colorado, at the time of their 31-6 loss to Utah, it appeared their shot at doing anything in the division widely missed.
This years Bruins could be better and will certainly push the Utes for the position to challenge USC at the top of the division. They also replaced the ineffective Rick Neuheisel, whose stint with the Bruins woefully failed to meet expectations, with Jim Mora - who's never actually coached a game at the collegiate level (either as an assistant or head man - well, outside his GA stint with Washington in '84). It's a big gamble and they're hoping, like Pete Carroll did for their crosstown rivals, it will pay off in a mighty big way. I don't know if it will, but I'm not ready to write him off because his resume is light. Neuheisel came in with a long resume of wins (and some awful losses) and that netted them mediocrity when they weren't downright awful.
So, in the preseason, this looks like a tough game. Lord knows Utah's last visit to the Rose Bowl didn't go too well and even though the Utes have won the last two meetings by an average score of 37-6, it's a challenging place to play. Outside Utah's trip to Seattle, this could prove to be the toughest road trip of the season.
I also am a bit unnerved by its placement on the schedule. I hate having it come after the USC game for two reasons - if Utah wins, will the emotional high ground 'em in a game like this? And if Utah loses to the Trojans, will there be a hangover effect similar to what we saw against Notre Dame in 2010? Like I said, Utah's chances of doing anything in the Pac-12 might ride on these two games and if the Utes come out of 'em 0-2, say goodbye to any challenge of the Trojans.
Hopefully the week of the game the coaches replay the Rose Bowl debacle from a few years ago, even though none of these players were on the team back then. It's an easy reminder that even a mediocre Bruins team (they finished 7-6 that season) can kick around Utah. Hopefully that's not what we're in store for this season.