I don't think I'm going out on a ledge when I say we're not big fans of Arizona State. The last two years, more than any team in the conference, they have absolutely rolled the Utes - in two games, really, that weren't all that close. For whatever reason, whether it's mental or talent, the Sun Devils have been able to toy with Utah and it's left us reeling both seasons.
Will that change in 2013?
Two years ago, I think we dismissed the loss to Arizona State because of the injury to Jordan Wynn, which occurred a week before against the Washington Huskies. Even in that game, for much the first three quarters, Utah was competitive - holding a lead and looking very capable of pulling off an impressive win over a then-ranked Sun Devils squad. But everything fell apart late and the final score was pretty lopsided. Last year, from the start, the Utes were outclassed, outgunned and completely embarrassed down in Tempe. I won't even begin to describe that debacle and instead focus on whether or not there is a real mental barrier here.
Let's be honest, Arizona State, while an improving program, isn't elite and the way they've tossed the Utes around the last two years seems pretty inconceivable when you realize both programs are in a similar spot - as over the last two seasons, Arizona State has gone 14-12 and Utah 13-12. Both programs produced a losing season and an eight-win season. The only difference is that the 6-7 Sun Devils from 2011 made a bowl game. The 5-7 Utes last season didn't.
That's a pretty comparable stretch for both teams. They also have generally pulled in similar recruiting classes. And yet, one team is predicted to challenge for the division and the other is Utah. Why is that?
I wish I had an answer. On the field, maybe the two just don't match up very well. On paper, though, there is similarities and I would wager Utah is far more similar to both Arizona schools than any other Pac-12 team - from potential on down to execution. Granted, the last season, ASU did much better than the Utes, and they handed us our butt two years as well, but on the whole, the program hasn't leaped that far ahead of ours ... at least it shouldn't have.
It hasn't been recruiting. It hasn't been in wins. But head-to-head? It's not even close. ASU has dominated the last two games by an average score of 36-10 and if you want to go back further, it's even uglier - Utah hasn't defeated the Sun Devils in 37 years. That gap is old enough to be my father. Okay, maybe it's not that long ... but still, the last time the Utes defeated Arizona State, they were both members of the WAC.
I want that to change. It needs to change because this is a division rival now and we're going head-to-head with them in recruiting and if Utah can't beat them on the football field, what makes us think they'll be able to beat them in the recruiting game? They already lost out on Jamal Scott, who, this week, picked the Sun Devils over the Utes. So, these are games you have to be competitive in because they're your main rivals. Look, no one is expecting us to contend yearly with the likes of Oregon or USC or Stanford, but until Arizona State turns into a national power on a near-yearly level, we need to be just as competitive with them as we are with Cal, Colorado, Arizona, Washington State and Oregon State. They're our equals, or at least can be our equals (in more ways than one because slipping to the level of Wazzu and Colorado isn't as hard as maybe we think), so, we need to play like it.
There is no excuse for ASU to work us like the rented mule we appeared to be in 2012.
That game was ridiculous.
But it's a new season and that means a chance to get things right. This year's game is back in Salt Lake, where Utah played 'em a bit more competitively than down in Arizona, and it also takes place in November. November games are generally cold and can have unpredictable weather - including some snow. That has to be an advantage for Utah, right? I mean, as much as the heat was to the Sun Devils last year?
It also comes after a bye week, which should allow the Utes to prepare for this one like it's the season and in reality, it's possible it could be the season. With how brutal that stretch is between Oregon State and ASU, including three road games, Utah just might enter this one in dire need of a victory to salvage their season.
Hopefully that isn't the case. But if it is, do you have the confidence the Utes can finally get that devil off their back?