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TribUte newsletter: I picked the Utes to win the South — just not like this

Utes are 7-1 in the Pac-12 South with the regular-season finale vs. Colorado set for Friday afternoon

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham cheers as the Utes pull a head of Oregon in the 4th quarter, in PAC-12 action between the Utah Utes and the Oregon Ducks, at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021.

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The day after the University of Utah’s 38-7 drubbing of Oregon, I tried to consume as much content from the game as I could. Local, regional, national, all of it.

In my internet travels, I came across a web-based national outlet that you’ve heard of if you follow college football. This outlet was basically patting itself on the back for picking Utah to win the Pac-12 South way back in July. Seeing that on the outlet’s Twitter handle got me thinking.

Of the 40 media members who voted in the conference-run Pac-12 preseason poll, only six picked the Utes to win the South. I was one of the six, but I’m not going to pat myself on the back.

This Utah division title, its third straight in non-COVID seasons, needs some context.

Yes, I picked Utah, but I picked it under the assumption that Charlie Brewer was going to play a full season. I didn’t pick the Utes thinking that Tavion Thomas would be a force of nature, and of course, no one had any indication that 75% of this season would come after a second player died in a span of nine months.

Yes, I picked Utah to win the South, but if I was recasting my ballot two days after the Utes lost to San Diego State, when they were 1-2 overall with Brewer having left the program, I probably would have amended my pick to Arizona State or UCLA.

Since that loss to the Aztecs, a lot has happened.

After Brewer left, Cam Rising took over. The Utes endured seven fumbles vs. Washington State and won. Aaron Lowe’s death came during the bye week. Utah rallied around each other and won at USC, a place it never wins, and helped bury Lowe two days later. The Utes outclassed Arizona State in the second half on Oct. 16, and have been in control of the Pac-12 South since, even with an ugly loss at Oregon State mixed in.

Blew out UCLA, blew out Stanford, avoided disaster at Arizona of all places, blew out Oregon to win the South, is now a three-score favorite in the regular-season finale vs. Colorado before turning its focus to the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 3.

All of this is to say, very little has gone as planned for Utah this season. If you’re going to pat yourself on the back for picking the Utes to win the South, at least admit to yourself that you didn’t see any of this coming.

No one did.

What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise

Peter Costelli’s decision to hit the NCAA Transfer Portal is understandable and does not come as a surprise. Costelli, the highest-ranked member of Utah’s 2021 recruiting class, wants to play football, but it was going to be a long time before that happened at Utah.

• I like Oregon to beat Oregon State on Saturday in Eugene and win the Pac-12 North, setting up a rematch with Utah in the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 3.

• Saturday night at the Huntsman Center vs. No. 18 BYU is the first big test for Craig Smith and the University of Utah. The Cougars are probably the best non-conference team the Utes will face, both will be unbeaten, so hopefully there is some juice in the building.

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