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The final exam on the last day of the year had a lot to do with the Utah football team’s 2018 grade.

The Utes fell out of the AP Top 25 and received a B-plus in USA Today's grading of all 130 teams in the FBS.

Those evaluations seem harsh, considering where the Utes once stood. They were No. 17 in the AP Top 25 prior to a 31-20 loss to Northwestern in the Holiday Bowl. Two factors likely played into Utah’s drop: The way the Utes crumbled in the second half was disturbing to voters, after they led 20-3 at halftime. And although No. 21 Northwestern’s identical 9-5 record was forgiven, five losses is a stark number for a Top 25 team.

The consolation going forward is that analysts producing early lists for 2019 recognize the Utes' returning talent, so they’ll make virtually every preseason top 25 — starting with ESPN.com’s No. 18 ranking.

Here are USA Today’s grades for Pac-12 teams, based on performance relative to expectations: A-plus — Washington State. B-plus — California, Oregon, Utah and Washington. B — Arizona State and Stanford. C-minus — Colorado and UCLA. D-plus — Oregon State. D — Arizona. F — USC.

Our stories of the past week

The return of four key juniors is a boost to Utah’s hopes in 2019. (TRIB)

The linchpin of that group, running back Zack Moss, expounded on his decision. (TRIB)

As logical as it seems for Utah to take the next step, successfully defending a Pac-12 South title is historically difficult. (TRIB)

The Utes have replaced linebackers coach Justin Ena with Colton Swan, from Jay Hill’s Weber State staff. (TRIB)

The Ute men’s basketball team’s Pac-12 opener was encouraging. (TRIB)

Sophomore forward Donnie Tillman’s breakout performance was especially important. (TRIB)

Wow. What if Parker Van Dyke’s would-be winning shot had fallen at Arizona? (TRIB)

The Utes still had to feel good about their opening week of conference play. (TRIB)

If you like 3-point shots, Utah is your team. (TRIB)

If you like defense, Utah is not your team. (TRIB)

The Ute women’s basketball team was stunned at the end of its Pac-12 home opener. (TRIB)

But the team showed toughness in bouncing back two days later. (TRIB)

Gymnastics expert Lya Wodraska previewed the Utes' season. (TRIB)

And then MyKayla Skinner and her teammates delivered a big opening performance. (TRIB)

What’s next for the Red Rocks? (TRIB)

Other voices

• Here’s the complete list of USA Today’s 2018 football grades, including those of 2019 Utah opponents BYU and Northern Illinois. (USAT)

• The Salt Lake Stallions of the AAF have a training camp roster loaded with former Utes. (AAF)

• Dirk Facer of the Deseret News reviewed Ute guard Sedrick Barefield’s recent scoring surge. (DNEWS)

Around campus

• The Ute women’s basketball team is now into the lengthy phase of the Pac-12 schedule that matches the men’s schedule. Coach Lynne Roberts' team plays Friday at Washington State and Sunday at Washington, while those schools are visiting Utah in men’s action this week.

Last weekend, the Ute women had similar, yet different results than the men. Utah lost to Arizona State on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, then routed Arizona in its first game without No. 2 scorer Daneesha Provo, who’s lost for the season with a knee injury.

Provo's absence creates a personnel challenge for Roberts, with an eight-player rotation. The Utes must replace her 13.5 points per game and redistribute her 28 minutes of playing time. Roberts said she went through each player on the active roster and “talked about what she brings to the team.”

The players most directly impacted are junior forward Kiana Moore, who responded with 19 points in an 80-64 win over Arizona, and freshman Niyah Becker.

The Pac-12's landscape creates both challenge and opportunity for the Utes, considering they'll play a total of only six games against the five Top 25 teams in the conference: Oregon, Stanford, Oregon State, Arizona State and California. Conceivably, they could lose all six of those games and still finish in the top five with a 12-6 record, considering those teams will beat one another. That makes games such as the Washington State/Washington swing critical.

• The Ute ski team is competing this week in the season-opening Colorado Invitational. In a warmup meet that counts toward NCAA qualification, Montana State transfer Addison Dvoracek won the men’s giant slalom Tuesday at Eldora, Colo., and Eirin Linnea Engeset finished second in the women’s race.