Utah might be the hardest team to peg heading into the 2011 season. I don't know if anyone is sure what to expect out of them and that's evident in how varied their rankings are as they ready to start Pac-12 play.
So why the discrepancy? Well for starters, this is uncharted territory for Utah. They've never played this difficult of a schedule and while their roster is talented and the coaches have certainly recruited well over the years, depth wise are they capable of going toe-to-toe with most Pac-12 programs?
We've come to expect competitive games with the conference and certainly the Utes have won their fair share over the years. However. one game of twelve isn't nearly as grueling as nine of nine. And that's exactly what Utah will be facing heading into this season.
Will they be able to compete on a weekly basis with programs that have experienced this type of grind for decades? That's the biggest question facing Utah and no one has that answer. Not those who think the Utes could win the South and certainly not those who think they'll finish 5th of 6th.
Utah is an unknown. They very well could claim the South crown. They also could struggle, drop six or seven games and miss out on the postseason for the first time since the 2002 season.
For the most part, the preseason college football publications currently, on average, put the Utes at 3rd in the Pac-12 South - so I guess you can say that's the consensus at the moment.
But then again, they don't know anymore than you or I do.
Those who feel Utah will compete for the Pac-12 South look at their past success (33-6 in the past three seasons), the current makeup of the division and conclude, barring a major meltdown, the Utes should be right there with the Arizona schools - especially when you factor in their schedule.
Those who feel Utah will be nothing better than a middle of the pack Pac-12 South team this year probably believe there will be a massive learning curve heading into a BCS conference. Surely they're good - but it will take a couple recruiting cycles to earn the depth necessary for a legitimate run at the Pac-12 South crown.
It's also hard not to ignore their performances against TCU, Notre Dame and Boise State. Clearly there will be more of those caliber opponents on the Utes' schedule than, say, San Jose State.
That point alone could lead someone to pick Utah to not only finish 5th in the Pac-12 South, but maybe think they're destined for a losing campaign.
If Utah had played nine teams that were at the level of their three losses last season, how many games do you think the 2010 Utes win?
Well we'll get to find out for real this season.