I've already gone over the first half of the 2006 season, so I thought I'd post my expectations for the second half of the season.
As I said in my review of the first half, it's difficult to really get a feel for how good/bad this Utah team is. They've looked fairly solid against TCU and SDSU and down right terrible against UCLA and Boise State. Yet I don't think the answers are confined to those four games, rather the Utes' success this season will fall somewhere in-between. Whether that's enough to win the conference championship is something we'll probably learn in a few weeks.
Utah's schedule is actually much easier in the second half than it was in the first. Whereas they had difficult games against UCLA and Boise State, their toughest tests probably won't equal the difficulty of either game. Though I will admit that there are a couple of trap games that could cost the Utes their 3rd Mountain West Conference championship in 4 years.
This Saturday the Utes play Wyoming and this will be a very tough test for Utah. A win there, which is very possible, would put their record at 5-2 and would undoubtedly position themselves for at least a 7-win season. However a loss against Wyoming could spell trouble as only a few days later they have to travel to a New Mexico team that's been a thorn in their side for many years.
After that road trip the Utes return to Salt Lake City with a match against UNLV, a team they have won 10-straight against. The Utes shouldn't lose this game, even if they enter on the heels of a 2-game losing streak. Then, after a bye week, Utah plays Colorado State at Rice-Eccles Stadium and ends the season with games at Air Force and then at home with instate rival TDS.
I think Colorado State is a solid team this year, however they lack the offensive power to really scare me. Their defense is good, but nothing like Utah's seen with Boise State, TCU and possibly Wyoming. I'm inclined to believe, especially after last year's disappointing loss in Fort Collins, the Utes will win much like they did against TCU last Thursday. Air Force on the other hand scares me. They're a talented team, but historically they've played Utah tough and I don't see that changing this season. Yet I can't help but focus in on the Falcons collapses over the years, because they've been monumental. Utah could benefit from that, since they play them late in the season.
Of course all that leads us up to the Holy War, where the conference championship very well could be on the line. TDS is a tough team with a great offense and an average defense. They'll also be looking for their first win over Utah since the 2001 season and most likely will not forget last year's mega upset down in Provo. But this game is in Salt Lake City and you can't ever overlook the mental factor the Utes have on TDS. Right now, no one on that team has beaten Utah and that can be taxing on a team. Until TDS proves they're capable of beating the Utes, especially at Utah, I'm going to have to say the edge goes to the Utes. Of course this does not take into account any possible meltdowns by the Utes in the second half of the season. If Utah enters this game with more than 4-losses, I think the chances of them winning are greatly hampered.
Looking at the schedule, I think it breaks down like this:
Sure wins: UNLV
Should win: Wyoming, New Mexico, CSU
Toss-up: Air Force and BYU
That puts Utah's final record anywhere from 10-2 to 8-4 and that does not count their bowl game. Of course football is a fickle sport and if the Utes lose Saturday night, that dramatically changes the outcome of the season. In fact, I'd wager a loss this weekend would mean another mediocre season, or worse, a losing one.
The second half of the season will come down to winning the games you should win and hoping you have enough in the tank to win the toss-up games. If they can go 10-2 and win the Mountain West Conference, it will definitely be a successful season and would have me optimistic for next season.