"I don't get no respect," was a famous line from comedian Rodney Dangerfield. Is this true for the No. 3 Utah Utes (6-0, 3-0 Pac-12)? Utah is the lone unbeaten team in the Pac-12, yet they seem to be a trendy upset pick almost every week. Many people thought Arizona State would upset Utah last weekend in Salt Lake City; instead, Utah won 34-18. This week, Utah is a underdog at unranked USC (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12). Metrics like ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) give Utah only a 27.9% chance to beat USC. Today on ESPN, both David Pollack and Desmond Howard said they thought Utah was the undefeated team most likely to lose this weekend. ESPN analyst and College GameDay co-host Kirk Herbstreit does even have Utah in his top six but has Alabama, who has a loss already to an average Ole Miss team at home. The SEC bias from anyone affiliated with ESPN is not surprising, but it just shows that being a big name program (and/or playing in the SEC) gets you hyped.
First, relax..deep breath..it will work itself out. Exhale.... My top 4. 1-Baylor 2-Ohio St 3-Bama 4-LSU Next 2 Clemson TCU @CollegeGameDay— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) October 18, 2015
If teams like Alabama, Michigan, Texas, USC, etc. had the resume that the Utes have so far this year, they would be ranked No. 1, and no one would question it. But, since it is Utah, a team that spent much of the BCS era in the Mountain West Conference, people do not believe Utah is for real. This lack of respect is evident in the Amway Coaches Poll, where Utah is ranked No. 7, behind teams like Michigan State. Utah and Michigan State have two common opponents: Michigan and Oregon. Michigan State needed basically a miracle play on the last play of the game to beat Michigan. While Utah did not blow Michigan out, the Utes never trailed the Wolverines. Michigan State beat Oregon by three points at home; Utah destroyed Oregon by 42 points on the road. How coaches can justify Michigan State ahead of Utah is baffling, and the best reasoning I can think of is brand recognition for Michigan State, a team that has played in two straight BCS/NY6 bowls, winning both.
While Utah very well could lose to USC, it seems almost unbelievable that the No. 3 team in the country could be underdogs to a team with a .500 record. Yes USC has a lot of talent, they are probably the most talented team Utah will see in the regular season, but USC is unranked. According the Matt Piper of the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah is the first AP top four team to be an underdog to an unranked team since the BCS era started in 1998.
The No. 3 Utes are the only top-4 AP team to be underdogs against an unranked team since at least 1998: https://t.co/b9y1ViBOQw— Matthew Piper (@matthew_piper) October 21, 2015
I suspect that if Utah beats USC, the national narrative for the Utes will change. USC while down, is still a very talented team and the biggest name program on the West Coast. If Utah beats USC, their schedule is very favorable the rest of the way, with FPI giving Utah at least a 60% chance to win each of their last five games, with a home date against UCLA being the toughest with Utah only having a 60.6% chance to win. I think what gives national pundits pause about Utah is because they are not a name brand, and Utah is not a flashy team. They do not score 60+ points a game like a Baylor or TCU. They are more like the good Stanford teams. They run the ball, they play good defense, and they play smart, tough football. If you play this style of football outside the SEC and are not a big name, you tend to not get as much respect as you might deserve. Utah however does not care what the nation thinks about the team.
Like Dangerfield, Utah does not need respect to succeed. Utah for years heard how teams outside the BCS conferences could not compete with the "big boys" and yet, Utah was the original BCS Buster in 2004, winning the Fiesta Bowl. Despite that success, no one gave the undefeated Utes a chance to beat Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. Analysts thought Alabama was too big and too physical for the Mountain West Champion Utes. Utah however proved the nation wrong, jumping out to a 21-0 first quarter lead before ultimately winning 31-17. Utah is a team that loves to play the role of underdog. They thrive on people doubting them. Utah has the talent this season that they can beat anyone this season, and it seems like at least so far this season, people will continued to be shocked with each Utah win. A win over USC tomorrow would go a long way to showing the national media that Utah is for real and is a force to be reckoned with in the Pac-12 and the nation this season.