Utah is coming off its big upset of fifth-ranked Stanford, but finds itself an underdog this week to an Arizona team looking for its first conference victory.
The Wildcats (3-2 overall, 0-2 Pac-12) opened as five-point favorites and are eager to return home for the first time in more than a month, thanks to two bye weeks and two road games — losses to Washington and USC.
The Utes are leaving their state for the first time this season, having defeated BYU in its only game away from Salt Lake City. They are 4-2 and not far off being 6-0, losing in overtime to Oregon State and coming within a touchdown of UCLA.
Utah broke through Saturday night with a 27-21 win over the Cardinal.
“This feels great,” said receiver Dres Anderson. “It feels like we won the national title.”
So, there are two schools of thought. Utah will play great this Saturday because its confidence is sky-high … or else it is due for a big emotional hangover from the “national title.”
Not sure what the Wildcats have done to be favored by so much this week, other then be at home. They do bring a measure of momentum into the week based off a fourth-quarter rally at USC that fell one defensive stop short.
Before the season, I picked Arizona to finish 4-5 in the conference. I counted the first of those four victories as coming this week.
Let’s revisit the rest of UA’s schedule, ranking the opponents from toughest to easiest:
1. Oregon, Nov. 23 — The Ducks could be playing for a national championship berth and a Heisman Trophy. Same story as six years ago when the second-ranked Ducks came into Tucson in November and left with a 34-24 loss (and a season-ending injury to Dennis Dixon).
2. UCLA, Nov. 9 – The Bruins are up to No. 9 in the country but how we feel about them will change, one way or another, in the next two weeks as they play at Stanford and then at Oregon. The only thing Arizona has going for it here is it has won four in a row over UCLA at home.
3. At Arizona State, Nov. 30 – The Sun Devils have a wider variety of weapons on offense and more playmakers on defense. Will it matter in a rivalry game? Road team has won four in a row in the series.
4. Utah, Saturday – These are the Utes we thought the Pac-12 was getting — strong, physical, simply a tough out — when it imported the program from the Mountain West. Utah’s sheer size on both lines should be a major problem for the Cats.
5. Washington State, Nov. 16 – The Cougars got what Arizona would have liked to have had — a chance to beat USC when it was coached by Lane Kiffin. WSU’s 10-7 in Los Angles raised hopes on the Palouse, but the running game is still dormant (last nationally at 66.4 yards per game) and the defense likely will take some body blows against Oregon and Arizona before the Cougs reach Tucson.
6. At Cal, Nov. 2 – New coach Sonny Dykes has the Bears slinging the ball for 371.3 passing yards per game, fifth-best in the nation, and that’s where the fun stops. Cal’s only win this season was a seven-point squeaker over lower-division Portland State.
7. At Colorado, Oct. 26 – The Buffs are better than they were last season, if only because wide receiver Paul Richardson — cousin of Arizona cornerback Shaquille Richardson — is healthy. Not much else nice to say about a team that has lost 11 consecutive conference games — 10 by at least 25 points.
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