They're those pesky games everyone knows you must win. They make or break your season, define a coach and a player. They're either really exciting, or down right painful for fans. Too tough of a game to be a sure win and not impossible enough to be a can't win. This year, Utah has quite a few and I they will ultimately be the deciding factor between an average season and one Utah fans look back on proudly.
These are those must win games...
I put these two together because I think it's important Utah gets a victory against one of these teams. It'll be tough, but doable and if Utah is going to make noise nationally, they will need to knock off some top-tier BCS teams. And yes Oregon State isn't the Creme De La Creme when it comes to elite BCS programs, but they're coming off a 10-win season and are a possible top-25 team this year. Going on the road and beating them would definitely turn heads. Likewise, getting a victory over UCLA at home would get people talking about Utah again.
I put this as a must win game because the Utes have not faired well in Fort Collins recently. Colorado State is not a power anymore and while that should place this game as a sure win, it doesn't. With Utah's past struggles against the Rams and the fact this game comes right after TCU (my bet for a loss), it could mean the difference between contending for the conference championship and another 3rd or worse place finish.
You'd think New Mexico would be a gimmie, since they're never beyond good and are often worse. Yet the Utes have lost two straight against the Lobos and have dropped the past two games at home ('03 and '05). The Lobos are the only Mountain West team Whittingham has not beaten and if the Utes lose again this year, at home, the Lobos will have every right to declare their ownage of Utah football. As a Ute fan, we can't allow that to happen. They can't abuse us like a rented mule and I fear another loss this year will quickly lead us down that path.
It's BYU, enough said. This is and always will be a must win for Utah. It was last year, the year before that and it will be next year. It doesn't help matters that the Cougars beat Utah for the first time in five years last season, so if they get their first sniff of a winning streak against Utah, it's going to be tough to take. Utah is 6-4 against the Cougars since 1997 and have won four of the past five meets. I expect, no demand, Utah pushes that to five of the last six Holy Wars and then run their record to 7-4 against BYU over the past 10 years.
That's 4 games I think Utah must win this season. Of course they probably won't and if they lose one of these games, I doubt it'll devastate the program. Yet it will set a troubling trend. Utah's inability to beat a BCS team in the regular season under Whittingham. Utah's inability to beat New Mexico under Whittingham. Utah's inability to win in Fort Collins under Whittingham and BYU's first 2-game winning streak against the Utes since the 1999 and 2000 seasons.
Hopefully these trends are broken and Utah actually succeeds in winning those must win games.
What are your thoughts on must win games? Overrated or definitely important to a team's success.