Utes face critical stretch over the next few weeks

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Though Weber offers the team a reprieve, the next few weeks will surely define the 2013 season.

If Utah football is going to produce a winning season in 2013, it's essential they do well over the course of the next few weeks. In fact, you could make the case that these next handful of games, all coming in the state of Utah, will ultimately define this year's team and it's imperative they take advantage.

The Utes won't leave the state of Utah until October 12th, six games into the season. While I don't expect them to win all those games, the schedule sets up in a way that could produce some strong momentum heading into the second half of the season. That's something they've lacked the last two years - opening 2011 3-3 in their first six and 2012 with a 2-4 record. It's also a big reason they needed a late surge to contend for a bowl game. This season, unfortunately, the schedule could prove too daunting beyond the first six games to mount a comeback.

So, what should be expected these next few weeks? It's hard to say. After only one week of play, I think most would say that Oregon State and BYU look far less challenging than they did prior to the start of the season. That doesn't mean they are, though, as one game does not a season make. But it's hard not looking ahead to those two contests as potential victories and, if all things go well against Weber State, it could offer up the opportunity for the Utes to start the season 4-0 heading into a major showdown with UCLA. Not too shabby at all.

Of course, Utah still isn't a known quantity yet. It's why they're not showing up on anyone's radar, even after a 1-0 start. ESPN's Ted Miller still has the Utes missing a bowl game, which tells me he still doesn't expect much these next few weeks out of Utah. In fact, of the major sports websites, none project the Utes as a bowl team this year.

A few good games this next month, though, could change that trajectory.

If Utah is going to make a play for a bowl bid, much of it will rely on what they do against Oregon State, BYU and even UCLA. I think all three of these games are winnable, and in fact, I'm expecting the Utes to at least be favored in one of those contests (potentially two or three depending on how things shake out post-OSU). They need to take advantage of that, even if it means they don't win 'em all (if, after the UCLA game, Utah is 4-1, I think we're in good shape).

The Utes might not be there yet, and maybe we're getting ahead of ourselves a bit, but I'm certain these next few weeks will tell us everything we need to know about their potential. In that regard, it's going to be a pretty exciting ride. It might not begin this weekend against Weber (though, to be sure, don't overlook 'em), but soon it'll be here and then we'll see whether Utah really is up to snuff.

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