One of the must-wins for Utah, you would think, has to be their game against Washington State. It's a winnable game, even if on the road, and with a schedule littered with tough opponents, the difference between good and bad just might be games like this.
Even so, the Utes' last trip to Pullman was a nail-biter, and though they easily rolled over Wazzu last season, you get the sense this year is going to be much closer - especially coming in November, which means the possibility of this happening again.
But if Utah is going to be successful this season, they need to win this one. Outside surprising enough teams to make up for a potential loss to the Cougars, a loss here would probably devastate their chances at a bowl bid. So, like we've discussed all off-season, it's imperative the Utes beat the opponents they match up best with. Wazzu fits the bill.
The thing is, this game comes a week after Utah's trip to Oregon. I hate where this game sits in the schedule. It screams TRAP regardless of what the Utes do in Eugene. In the USC preview, I mentioned how the second game of back-to-back roadies could prove tough. That goes for this one too, even if the Cougars aren't at the level of the Trojans.
Another thing that bothers me is how disappointing Washington State was last season. While no one would have ever bet on 'em to win the Pac-12 North, or even contend, the fact they only finished with one conference victory, after all the hype Mike Leach brought to the program, was pretty surprising. Last year was not a good season for the Cougars, so, our perception of them, like with the Utes, is based on those results. This is, after all, the same team that lost to a very average (and that might be generous) Utah team by a score of 49-6.
But if they're improved, and Leach can get back to the type of coach who's deadly no matter the opponent, a trip to Pullman could be very difficult for the Utes. So difficult, in fact, that it's entirely possible Utah enters this game as the underdog. If they're teetering between a losing season and a bowl bid, I'm not so sure I want it to come down to a game like this. Not on the road - especially with how the Utes have played away from Rice-Eccles Stadium recently.
Of course, Utah did luck out a bit. Originally, it looked like Washington would be the team left on the schedule this season ... not Washington State. That changed, and certainly that change is enough to bolster Utah's bowl chances. While the Cougars continue to be a sort of enigma under Leach, they're far less a certainty than the Huskies, who could field a pretty competitive team this season.
So, in that regard, we're lucky. I'd much rather play at Pullman than maybe even host Washington (even more so if you factor in the last two games against 'em). I know, a road game isn't the same as a home game! But the Huskies are good. We don't quite know if the Cougars are at this point. Sure, they may prove to be improved, and maybe they'll make a bowl game, but they're just as likely, if not more, it would seem, to miss out on the postseason yet again. After all, nearly every preseason publication predicts they'll finish last in the North.
Ultimately, as I said, this is a must-win game if Utah is going to succeed in 2013. I just don't think they can overcome a loss here without really turning a corner, and then, really, wouldn't that be disappointing too?
On paper, I believe the Utes should win a game like this. Unfortunately, they seem to be prone to WTF losses and this definitely has the makings for such a game.
Still, I think Utah wins. But maybe I'm just saying that because I realize they probably need to win for this season to shake out positively.
I don't know.