It’s official, the goal for Utah’s football season has evolved from the Utes being a player in the Pac-12 race to finding a way to play in the Pac-12.
The Utes, who have lost their last four games, must win four of their five remaining contests to become bowl eligible. The last time the Utes (2-5, 0-4) missed out on the postseason was in 2002, when they finished 5-6 in coach Ron McBride’s final season.
No one is interested in being the team that sees the streak end, said tight end Jake Murphy.
“We feel like we can win in this conference,” Murphy said. “I hear people say we may take a couple years to get the athletes in the Pac-12, but we feel like we can do that right now, and if we can put it all together, we feel like we can make this bowl game and do some damage in the last couple games.”
The good news for the Utes is their schedule gets considerably lighter after several weeks of facing some of the best teams in the Pac-12. That’s similar to last year, when the Utes won four of their last five games to earn a spot in the Sun Bowl.
The most dangerous games on the schedule, at least on paper, are the home games against California on Saturday, against Arizona on Nov. 17 and the Nov. 10 game at Washington.
Running such a gamut will be difficult, but Utah’s players say they are determined to get it done.
“It’s frustrating, but we feel like if we can win a game, we can go on a winning streak,” safety Eric Rowe said.
Of comfort to the Utes is that all of the teams remaining on the schedule have had their own share of issues, much like the Utes.
Cal has been one of the most unpredictable teams. The Bears lost to Nevada but played Ohio State close then lost at home to Arizona State before upsetting UCLA.
Particularly at issue for the Bears is an offensive line that has been porous at times and a defense that is giving up 25.8 points a game.
However, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham cautioned Monday the Bears are more dangerous than they appear.
“They have struggled at putting it all together this year,” he said. “But the talent level of their football team is something else.”
As for the rest of the remaining games, the opponents have had their share of issues, just like the Utes.
Offensive guru Mike Leach has not been able to work any wonders with Washington State’s offense this year. The Cougars average only 21.1 points a game.
Washington State has been on a downward spiral that started with a 52-21 loss at Oregon on Oct. 6. The Huskies have lost their last two games, including Saturday’s 52-17 defeat at Arizona.
Washington next plays Oregon State and at Cal. If they lose both, it might be hard for the Huskies to be up mentally for facing the Utes on Nov. 10.
Arizona’s 52-17 win over the Huskies raised a lot of eyebrows Saturday considering how dominating it was, but the Utes will get a boost from playing at home.
Last up for the Utes is Colorado, which dashed the Utes’ hopes of making it to the Rose Bowl last year. The Buffs’ only win this season was a 35-34 victory over Washington State, making a Utah win on the road in a few weeks a strong possibility.
In addition to a softer schedule, knowing they were successful against a similar finish last year gives the Utes hope.
“We know we can do it,” Rowe said. “We’re not a team comfortable with losing.”
Nevertheless, the Utes know they have a long way to go, but the season is short.
“I said a few weeks ago too, it was do or die,” Murphy said. “But now we’re getting down to it. There is no time to waste.”
Utah’s remaining schedule
The Utes have to win four of their next five games to become bowl eligible. Here is a look at the teams left on the schedule and The Tribune’s projection for the Utes.
Date Opponent Records Projection for Utes
Sat. California 3-5, 2-3 W O-line gave up four sacks to Stanford
Nov. 3 Wash. St. 0-4, 2-5 W New coaching staff hasn’t been able to bring new results
Nov. 10 at Washington 3-4,1-3 L Offense struggling like Utah’s, averaging just 20.7 points
Nov. 17 Arizona 4-3, 1-3 W Has played tough since suffering 49-0 blowout by Oregon
Nov. 23 at Colorado 1-6, 1-3 W Giving up 42.6 points a game
After facing some of the best offenses in the Pac-12, the Utes finish their schedule facing some of the worst. Here is how the offenses stack up in scoring in the Pac-12.
School Average points
1. Oregon 51.0
2. Arizona 39.14
3. ASU 37.7
4. USC 34.9
5. UCLA 31.7
6. Stanford 27.4
School Average points
7. Oregon St. 26.2
8. Cal 25.6
9. Washington St. 21.1
10. Washington 20.7
11. Utah 20.1
12. Colorado 18.7
Cal at Utah
P Saturday, 7:45 p.m., TV • Pac-12 Networks