Utah must shake off its down to the wire loss to UCLA and quickly focus on an even tougher test - the fifth-ranked Stanford Cardinal.
This is going to be a difficult game for the Utes. There really is no downplaying it. If Utah is going to win, it'll take a near-perfect performance and probably even a bit more. That's just how good the Cardinal really are this season.
So, can the Utes #shockstanford?
Yes, there is a chance. I believe it and I'm not just foolin' or being a homer here.
Of course, the chances aren't good. They're not good because, let's be honest, Stanford is good and it's rare they lose - especially to a lesser opponent.
Since 2010, the Cardinal have lost just four regular season games - to Oregon in '10, Oregon again in '11 and Washington and Notre Dame in 2012. That's an impressive stretch and only the Huskies didn't end the year with a great season (Oregon and Notre Dame would go on to play in the national championship game in their respective seasons).
To put it clearly - they just don't lose.
That's a lot of powerful force on their side entering Salt Lake City, a place that once was tough, but has lost its intimidating factor over the last few seasons. Okay, that's not entirely fair. I think RES is still a very tough place to play, but Utah is far from unbeatable at home. In fact, their home record since the 2011 season is toward the bottom of the conference and that shouldn't intimidate anyone, especially the 5th ranked team in the nation.
Conversely, though, the Utes have proven to be a tough adversary in their last few conference home games. Last year, they took USC to the brink, nearly beat Arizona, lost, in overtime, to Oregon State and came close to pulling off a stunning comeback against the UCLA Bruins. Yes, while the losses have piled up, they're not blowouts and that alone should be reason enough to believe Saturday will be close.
Of course, that doesn't count other factors that might hinder the Utes. The first, and most important, is Travis Wilson's health. Last Thursday, he was apparently playing with a fever of 100 degrees and hasn't been able to shake whatever bug he currently has. If he doesn't show improvement by the weekend, it's likely he won't be playing. Losing Wilson, even if there are capable players to back him up, would be a huge blow for the team and, while I suspect he'll feel better come Saturday, still a concern.
There's also the injury of Jake Murphy, who now will have surgery on a broken wrist. It's unclear how long he's out, but he's for sure not playing this weekend. With an offense that has the firepower at quarterback, but limited receiving options, losing their best tight end certainly is a disappointment and hinders the game plan ... especially without Wilson.
You also have a stout Stanford defense and a scary defensive line. Still, as Washington showed this past weekend, they're not invincible. The problem is, they beat you ugly. That's been their way, especially under David Shaw, and maybe why Vegas sees 'em as only an 8 1/2 point favorite. They might not blow the doors off their opponent, but they'll eventually wear 'em down and win by doing all the small things. They're insanely-well coached, disciplined and smart.
No wonder they're ranked fifth in the country.
But I still like Utah's chances. Maybe not to win ... but almost win and if they can almost win, hell, who knows, maybe they will win?