Utah entered their game against Cal last season riding an increased bit of momentum after defeating the Pittsburgh Panthers on the road. As the game progressed, though, it became very apparent that momentum was fleeting.
The Cal Golden Bears embarrassed the Utes 34-10 and left them reeling after an 0-4 conference start. It was certainly not what Utah expected out of their first season in the Pac-12 and when they somberly left the field that October night, I'm not sure anyone expected another victory the remainder of the season.
We don't need to rehash what happened after that game, but suffice it to say, Utah bounced back rather nicely.
But that night, boy did it feel like everything had fallen apart and the smoldering mess we were left with wasn't going to be easy to rebuild. Jon Hays, in only his third start at Utah, regressed, like much of the team, from his performance against the Panthers a week earlier and left little hope he could lead this team to success in their next five games.
Cal was a good team last season, but I don't think they were 24 points better than Utah. They also entered that game with a poor 3-3 record, including three-straight losses. The win boosted them and they did finish a fairly respectable 7-6 - but the damage they inflicted on the Utes that night felt lasting and far more devastating than it should have been.
Their victory over Utah was their largest margin of the season over a FBS team. Fresno State, and Colorado, both of whom did not finish with a winning record, put up more fight in their losses than the Utes. It was embarrassing, ugly, shameful and, that night, about as depressing as a loss could get.
So, with a more healthy team, hopefully, and better depth, will this year be different than last?
The good news is that Utah should be better than they were last year. In some respects, though, so should Cal. They return what could be a very potent offense with senior quarterback Zach Maynard and Isi Sofele. Of course, as we can attest, the offense's success will rely on their offensive line. It was problematic last season at times and will be key to their success this year.
With that said, now their defense becomes a liability, since they've lost a great deal of talent from last year's impressive, conference-leading unit. It remains to be seen how well they make the adjustment, but I anticipate, by the time this game rolls around, they'll be solid enough to make it very tough for Utah.
It should be a difficult and interesting game and one Utah should be favored to win depending on how the season develops. I'm glad it's at home, and I expect a tinge of payback in the air when the two meet, but Cal is not going to be a lightweight opponent. Yes, this ain't your older brother's Jeff Tedford, but he's still a good coach and is capable of getting things back on the right track, even if it appears that hasn't been the case over the past three seasons.
This should be a fun, competitive one that will go along way toward potentially validating Utah's standing in the conference.