Last season marked the first time since 2006 Utah failed to finish in either the top-25 or 'others receiving votes' category. That's quite a run for a program that, prior to '07, had all of three final appearances in the top-25 in the 43 years prior.
This year, it's unlikely Utah will open the season ranked, as was also the case last season, but I expect they'll be well within striking distance and a quick start would almost guarantee a rise in the polls leading up to the big showdown against USC on October 4th.
But that will require wins against BYU and Arizona State and neither are a guarantee. Still, unlike last year, the Utes' chances of starting the season 4-0 are almost infinitely better than in 2011. They started that season 2-2 in their first four and, prior to their loss to Washington at home, the closest they got to being ranked was a preseason ranking of 28th. After their ho-hum win over Montana State to kick off the season, they faded, and even after their knockout of BYU, the team could never really get back to that preseason level.
Will 2012 be different? I think so. Of course, I also think Utah will be better than last year's team and should contend for ten regular season wins. If that happens, it's hard to imagine they won't be ranked. But then, who knows what's in store for the program. A quick couple losses to kickoff 2012, maybe to BYU & ASU, could undo a season and force us to play catch up the remainder of the year, which was clearly the case in 2011.
If that happens, don't expect Utah to finish ranked. Though they got their act together the second half of last season, and put together a couple impressive wins, it couldn't undo the perception created from the Washington, Arizona State, and Cal losses. The Utes would only receive votes once after their loss to Washington, and it wasn't until their defeat of Washington State. Even then, their overall ranking was 37th and, obviously, it didn't last, as they lost to Colorado the week those rankings were released.
So, what will Utah's ranking be after the Colorado game? Will they be ranked at all?