USC, once the elite team in the Pac-12, is coach-less, struggling and in dire need of victory. They're injury plagued, depleted by sanctions and a former shell of their once mighty selves. If there was ever a time to defeat the Trojans, it's this weekend.
Yet with how Utah performed Saturday against Arizona, coupled with the uncertainty of Travis Wilson, this game still proves to be a hurdle - one the Utes sorely need to leap over in their bid to return to the postseason.
Don't get me wrong, this is not a must-win. Utah can afford a loss. It's just not an ideal game to drop. Not with how beatable the Trojans look this year - not with the Utes already nursing a defeat. When you get down to it, how many opportunities will Utah have to defeat the Trojans - especially in the Land of Troy?
Saturday is their best shot since joining the Pac-12.
This game is going to tell us a lot about the program and coaches because, really, Saturday was their first bad game. Sure, any loss can be considered bad - but Saturday was not a good performance. It was a contest riddled with mistakes, poor play calling and poor play. How will they handle the real first letdown of the season? The way they bounce back could help define the season and set the course for something successful. A loss, though, will continue to push Utah's backs against the wall, and while this team always shows fight down the stretch, the path back to bowl contention will narrow considerably.
So, like I said, while this isn't a must-win, it's about as close as you can get to that without it ultimately being classified as such.
What Utah faces this weekend is a Trojan team stuck in limbo. Certainly they will have a new coaching staff next year, and this year's team has been vulnerable, which makes the prospects of victory even brighter. It doesn't hurt that they've been ravaged by injury - losing Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer in their loss last week to Notre Dame. That was on top of Marqise Lee, who reinjured his leg in the same game and sat out the second half.
Of course, it isn't like the Utes aren't free of injuries themselves. Wilson went down against Arizona and is questionable, Jake Murphy is potentially done for the season and Westlee Tonga is hobbled and gone for a while. Not exactly prime position to be in for a team in need of a slump buster.
If Wilson doesn't go, and I'm expecting he won't, Adam Schulz, who started the second half against Arizona, will probably line up under center - meaning Utah once again faces a season where their quarterback fails to make it through an entire year without missing a game.
I'm starting to wonder if we built our football stadium on an old Indian Burial Ground.
We are the Utes, after all.
So, what happens this Saturday? I have no clue. I thought Utah would beat Arizona, and they didn't, and I really don't know if they can beat the Trojans - not with how poorly they've played recently on the road. Even so, I wouldn't be surprised if they did pull out the victory, and it's something I think is possible with how poor USC has looked for much of the season.
But it's not a given. No game is anymore. Not in the Pac-12.
That's good news for underdogs everywhere.
Utah enters this weekend's contest seven-point dogs.
Hopefully Vegas is wrong. Hopefully the Utes put their loss to Arizona behind 'em and return to Salt Lake 5-3.
Oh how pretty 5-3 would look.