After three weeks of Pac-12 football, a Utah team that no one (including Utah fans) expected to be in this position, has an opportunity to make a statement in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Pac-12 south favorite UCLA is 3-0 after a 20-17 win over hapless Texas, but none of UCLA's three wins have looked convincing, at least none that would justify the Bruin's lofty no. 12 ranking. Worse yet for the baby blue boys from Los Angeles, starting quarterback left the Texas game with an apparent injury to his non-throwing elbow. While backup Jerry Neuheisel (yes, that Neuheisel's son) came through to lead UCLA to a come-from-behind win, having a backup in this early in the season probably isn't what UCLA fans would have wanted.
No. 9 USC went on the road this weekend and, apparently, left their defense back in L.A. Boston College came out of nowhere to dominate the vaunted Trojan defense, racking up 452 yards rushing. USC only managed 20 yards on the ground. Yes, Utes fans, that's just 20 yards. The Trojans went down 37-31 and showed that their not ready to face a team that runs the read-option well. (Imagine what Arizona will do to them. Their just lucky to avoid Oregon in the regular season.)
Washington State finally won a game, destroying lesser division foe Portland State 59-21. Yawn. Certainly the 1-2 Cougars have a potent offense. No one disputes that, but Mike Leach isn't known for his championship defenses, and this isn't going to be the year he is. Washington State will score, but can they keep any other Pac-12 teams from scoring? Utah will find out Sept. 27. (But you have to think Utes quarterback Travis Wilson is licking his chops watching Wazzu games.)
Pac-12 north power Stanford is reeling a little from their loss to USC. While it's silly to completely eliminate the Cardinal from conference contention, they may not be the powerhouse this season they have been in recent years. We also know that Utah matches up well against Stanford's offensive and defensive schemes. This season's game takes place in Palo Alto, however, which will make pulling a win out of the Bay Area no cake walk, but the matchup of styles given the Utes a good chance to upset the home team.
No. 2 Oregon is 3-0 after mowing yet another opponent (in this case former Utah conference mate Wyoming) under the Autzen Stadium turf, 48-14. The Ducks have yet to play a road game this season, so we haven't seen what they look like outside of the state of Oregon. But I'm not going to sugar coat it. The Utes have Oregon in town for a Nov. 8 game in Rice-Eccles Stadium. Hopefully, it snows.
No. 16 Arizona State improved to 3-0, 1-0 after taking out Colorado in Boulder, but the Sun Devils starting quarterback Taylor Kelly left the game with a foot injury. Kelly was spotted on the sidelines on crutches afterward. I wonder if even Sun Devil fans know who their backup is. I highly doubt they wanted to find out. No word yet on how long Kelly will be out (or even if he'll miss games at all), but Utah fans are familiar with what a promising season can be like after your starting signal caller goes down.
Arizona seems to only worry me, but the 3-0 Wildcats have game. U of A has the nations fifth best offense and just beat a decent Nevada squad 35-28. The team from Tucson is not one to take lightly and could be a dark horse in the Pac-12 south race. We'll all learn a lot more about Arizona when they host Cal this Saturday, as well when they travel to Oregon on Oct. 2.
Oregon State is 2-0 on the season, but slim victories over Portland State (the team 1-2 Washington State just blasted) and 1-2 Hawaii don't give prognosticators warm fuzzies. With a cannon-armed quarterback like 6-5 senior Sean Mannion (628 yards passing, four touchdowns, one interception) at the helm, the Beavers can beat anyone. But with a defense that has given up an average of 22 points to weak opponents (30 to Hawaii), they could also lose to anyone in the Pac-12. Typical OSU, good, bad, and, occasionally, ugly.
Utah avoids Washington, which is getting better, as well as Cal, a team I think might be able to spoil the party in Provo. (Some in the local media want to make a 3-0 start into 1984; however, only the weakness of the schedule is similar. But there's another season that may apply, 2002, when the boys in blue went undefeated until the final game, only to get rocked by Hawaii and blasted by Lousiville in the Liberty Bowl. Don't sleep on Cal.)
After three weeks of college football, the assumed powers in the Pac-12 are showing the chinks in their armor. But after two straight 5-7 seasons, as well as a lack of depth in the defensive secondary and the linebacking corps, Utah will need momentum to make waves in The Conference of Champions. That momentum starts at Michigan. A 3-0 Utes football team with a nationally recognized road win against a prominent program like Michigan will catapult Utah back to Salt Lake City into their home and conference opener versus Washington State. With a win over Michigan, Utah will beat Wazzu, giving them their first winning record in the Pac-12 and starting the conference season on a high note. Then, a 4-0 Utah heads into Los Angeles against a very vulnerable UCLA squad with some swagger and momentum. The opportunity presented by the Michigan Wolverines cannot be understated or glossed over. Utah's game in Ann Arbor, Mich. on Saturday, Sept. 20 at 1:30 MT is B1G.
Give a listen to The U Fan Cast as we chatted a bit about Michigan.