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Utes can take big step forward with win over USC

Though the program is coming off a depressingly tough defeat to Arizona, they still could make some ground with a win over Trojans.

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

I've said it since last year ended - 2013 will prove to be a measuring stick of sorts for this program's potential. Not necessarily about what they can do this season, but what they can do in future seasons.

So far, with the win over Stanford, the Utes have shown they can compete with, and beat, the elites this conference has to offer. Prior to the start of the season, that was very much in doubt - as Utah owned zero wins over a Pac-12 team that finished with a winning record. That is progress. No matter what happens between now and the end of the season, Utah proved, at least marginally, they are a threat.

For that alone, this season feels like it is building to something of a success. Sure, a losing record will negate much of that win, but if the Utes muster two wins, which I think they will be able to do, the victory over the Cardinal will be a defining moment for this year's team.

But that doesn't mean there aren't other steps to be had. The leap between where we were prior to the upset of Stanford, and where the team is now, might not be as pronounced as we had hoped after that victory. Utah's loss to Arizona pretty much made sure of that. Still, there is a great deal of season left and a win Saturday could actually kill two birds with one stone - it'll provide the Utes a much-needed road conference victory and indicate the program is above collapse and struggle after things don't go their way.

As bad as USC has looked at times this season, they are still USC, and a win, especially on the road, would be impressive and important. I mentioned the other day that Utah probably wouldn't get too many shots at the Trojans - at least not where they have a real legitimate chance of winning ... especially on the road. They have got to take advantage of these moments, because, as we found out in 2011 with the chance of winning the Pac-12 South, if you don't, who knows when that chance will come again.

USC won't be down for long. Sooner or later, they'll reemerge as a Pac-12 power and if that time rolls around with Utah winless against 'em since joining the conference, we'll probably dwell on these games - the winnable ones. You know, a winnable game is more than just a game that you can win. It's a game that is too important not to win. Colorado in 2011 was a winnable game on both fronts and while the loss didn't cripple Utah's season, it kept 'em from attaining something special - a chance to play for the Pac-12 championship.

The what ifs of that game still roll through my head, even if I am convinced the Utes stood zero chance against Oregon that year. But at least they would have gotten that chance - at least they could claim a division championship.

This Saturday, I don't want any what ifs. I want a win over USC. In their house.