The Utes are rolling and enter their final stretch of the 2007 season looking for an impressive finish to what has turned out to be a wild ride. Utah, winners of four straight, can push that winning streak to five Saturday against Colorado State in Fort Collins. A victory there and the Utes will sit at 6 wins and 3 losses, their best record after 9 games in Whittingham's short career with Utah. And while a win isn't a guarantee, the way Utah is playing, it should be expected.
Even though yesterday I said winning in Fort Collins is no easy task for Utah, I feel confident enough to predict a win. Not because I think Colorado State is a bad team, but because I believe Utah is just better. If the Utes don't get stuck playing down to their competition and force the Rams into a one-dimensional offense, they should be ok. If Kyle Bell and Gartrell Johnson go off on the Utes like UNLV's Frank Summers did earlier in the season, watch out, because it could be UNLV Part II. And the body count in sequels is always higher.
Looking beyond Colorado State -- and I hope the Utes aren't doing this, that's only afforded to me -- the Utes get a much needed bye week before embarking on their final three games of the season. Those three games will be played in Utah and the Utes will probably be favored in all but the BYU game. And while I hate predicting what will happen, if all goes as expected, the Utes will walk into Provo with an 8-3 record, a 7-game winning streak and winners of their last 8 of 9. Pretty impressive for a team that started the season 1-3 with two embarrassing losses. Of course I'm not one to put the cart before the horse and maybe jumping ahead to the next five weeks of the season is tempting fate, but I can't help it, I'm genuinely excited about Utah football.
Luckily, if history has proven anything, Utah will finish the season strong. In 2005 the Utes entered the final four games of the season with a 3-4 record and finished the year 7-5, defeating Georgia Tech in the Emerald Bowl. Last season Utah was 4-4 as they geared up for their final four games of the season and they finished 8-5. That was their best finish, going 4-1 over the next five games. That lone loss came against BYU, on a last second heave by John Beck (not soon to be forgotten). The trend clearly shows that Utah plays its best ball in the final four games of the season than they do during the prior 8. That has changed a bit this season, as the Utes started out slow and have had an amazing run as of late. Under Whittingham, they have not been above .500 this late in the season until now. That's good news, the bad news is that Utah has still lost a game each of the past two years this late in the season. The first came at home against New Mexico and the second, as already stated, came against BYU last year.
That New Mexico loss was shocking and really disappointing. Utah appeared to have gotten their act together after dominating Wyoming the week prior. But that success did not spill over, as the Utes blew a halftime lead to the Lobos (ugh, that sounds familiar) and lost the game along with Brian Johnson. It looked bleak for Utah as they rolled into Provo, but an overtime victory reinvigorated the Utes and turned what quickly was becoming a terrible season, into a fairly successful one.
Looking at the final three games of the season, it's identical to Utah's 2005 schedule. They play host to Wyoming and then New Mexico before traveling to BYU. I just hope this time the Utes can beat New Mexico, along with Wyoming and CSU. Entering their game against BYU at 8-3 would really be something. A victory there and this will go down as a pretty good season and a possible springboard to greatness in 2008. But first thing first, defeat CSU.