Utah fans celebrate after a touchdown against the University of Southern California during an NCAA Football game at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. (Photo by: Justin Prather | The Utah Chronicle).

 

Utah football has been, like any other season since the departure of Alex Smith and the undefeated campaign in 2008, an enigma of ups and downs. From great early starts plagued by late falters, to early struggles met with late triumph, Utah fans have seen it all in the past ten years. This Utah team is different, however. There’s more confidence in the locker room, there’s more swagger on the field, and more importantly, there’s dominance on the scoreboard and in the win column. If it hadn’t been for late-game heroics by Washington State, Utah would be looking at a 6-1 record. This would put the Utes two games ahead of USC and tie them with Washington for the best record in the entire Pac-12. This is a different Utah team from years past and their performance has blown away most of the expectations I had coming into the season. Let’s examine the predictions I made and how pleasantly surprised I was to be so wrong.

Game 1: Utah vs. Weber State

My Prediction: Win, 42-10

Actual Score: Win, 41-10

The Verdict: I was one point off, okay?

Game 2: Utah @Nothern Illinois

My Prediction: Win, 24-17

Actual Score: Win, 16-7

The Verdict: I wrote this prediction before I had a good look at the current iteration of the Utah defense. I understood that NIU had one of the more dominant defensive units in their conference, but I believed that Utah’s offense would stay hot. This game was a battle of attrition for both sides. Utah went into the half down 3-0. This game was full of fumbles and penalties, but Utah still came away with the win in Illinois. Nothing to write home about, but Utah still remained perfect in their non-conference record with some things to tighten up and address before Washington.

Game 3: Utah vs. Washington

My Prediction: Loss, 31-27

Actual Score: Loss, 21-7

The Verdict: Heading into the season, I had a feeling that Utah might drop this one at home. I have previously called Washington Utah’s kryptonite, and that held up. Some questionable officiating and targeting calls to Utah’s key defenders grounded the Utes and ended their bid for a perfect season with an ugly loss. It wasn’t a blowout, but a lot of things went wrong on both sides of the ball for Utah.

Utah would have won if: This game was being played next week, and not when Utah was still figuring out a lot of new looks on both sides of the ball. I would absolutely take Utah over the Huskies after the smattering that Utah has handed to their last three opponents.

Game 4: Utah @ Washington State

My Prediction: Win, 20-13

Actual Score: Loss, 28-24

The Verdict: This was one of the more disappointing performances of the season up to week five, even with the stumbles against NIU and Washington. The Utes had the lead going into the fourth quarter, but the tides turned with a late bomb by Huskies quarterback Gardner Minshew, playing in his first full starting role since Luke Falk went to the NFL. The Utes started strong but were nipped by a defense still figuring out the kinks.

The Utes would have won if: They minimized big plays from Washington State’s defense. If Utah hadn’t given up two TD passes over 50 yards, there would have been an earlier start to their run of dominance. The matchup was even enough that the defense had to be perfect, but blown coverages and mistakes cost them this one.

Game 5: Utah @ Stanford

My Prediction: Loss, 27-14

Actual Score: Win, 40-21

The Verdict: Football is awesome, and this week, Utah was on the receiving end of college football’s chaos. Utah came into Palo Alto to play the then #14 ranked Stanford, with just a 25 percent chance to win the game, according to ESPN’s metrics. Apparently, nobody told Utah that. Sure, the Utes got lucky with the news that Heisman candidate Bryce Love was out with an injury, but hey, circumstances are circumstances! Utah stunned fans with a 24-7 halftime lead, and stifled an electric Stanford offense. If Utah stopped scoring at the half, they still would have won the game, but quarterback Tyler Huntley stayed on his game with some help from the defense for what might be the Utes’ most surprising upset since beating USC in 2016.

Game 6: Utah vs. Arizona

My Prediction: Win, 24-14

Actual Score: Win, 42-10

The Verdict: How do you win against Stanford in such a convincing fashion and not come home and hold the fort? Utah did just that as they rolled over the Arizona Wildcats at Rice Eccles Stadium for Ute Proud Night. Like the game against Stanford, all facets of the game were completely dominant. Even the special teams got involved, with Mitch Wishnowsky faking a punt for a big gain in the second half. The crowd at Rice Eccles got a show, and Utah won their second straight game by scoring over 40 points. This was the best the team could do to prepare for what was looking like their biggest game of the season against USC.

Game 7: Utah vs. USC

My Prediction: Win, 21-20

Actual Score: Win, 41-28

The Verdict: At the beginning of the year, I predicted that USC and Utah would resemble each other more closely in statistics. Honestly, USC has played fairly average since the season kicked off. They delivered against the teams they were favored to beat. In the games they weren’t, they didn’t. USC has lost a lot of talent to graduation and the NFL draft. I had Utah edging out a one-point victory entirely because of the veteran leadership that Huntley brings to the table. That, coupled with Zack Moss running wild and Britain Covey playing as well as ever, contributed to Utah scoring the most ever points in a game against USC, and winning their third straight game with 40 points.

This Utah team has been a joy to watch, with an electric offense and aggressive defense. This season, in my opinion, is their best chance to take a shot at the Pac-12 Championship, and the rest of their schedule can help them with that quest. Let’s look ahead to the rest of the Utah schedule and compare my preseason thoughts to the thoughts I have after a stellar seven games.

Game 8: Utah @ UCLA

Old Prediction: Loss, 23-20

New Prediction: Win, 42-21

Here’s Why: Heading into this game, I imagined a Utah team that had just gotten through a dogfight with USC and an emotional, gut-wrenching win against the toughest team in the south. To boot, this game at the Rose Bowl is played after only six days of recovery, so I imagined that Utah might drop an upset after coming away with a close win against USC. Utah dominated in every facet of the game, with the exception of some special teams gaffs. While both Utah and UCLA have some serious momentum coming into their matchup, I think this iteration of the Utah team, on all sides of the ball, is just too much for a team just coming into their own under a new coach. I think Utah will pull away early and come away with a convincing win in Pasadena.

Game 9: Utah @ ASU

Old Prediction: Win, 23-17

New Prediction: Win, 35-10

Here’s Why: As this season’s Utes mature, I think Utah will continue on their roll and head into Tempe with a lust for the championships. Arizona State had high hopes coming into the season, but now, it will be considered a positive if they make a bowl game this year. After Utah, they play games against UCLA and Oregon, and I could see them going 1-1 through those weeks, before finishing off the year against Arizona. After upsetting #15 Michigan State, it’s been ups and downs for ASU, and their matchup with Utah should be a big, resounding down.

Game 10: Utah vs. Oregon

Old Prediction: Win, 17-14

New Prediction: Win, 28-21

Here’s Why: I wasn’t expecting Oregon to come out as a favorite to win the Pac-12 North, but here we are. While I don’t think Oregon can run away with the whole conference, I do still think this is one of the Utes’ more even matchups of the remaining schedule. This will be a heavy match between two of the hottest teams in the country, but I think Utah’s experience at key positions will give them a win in Salt Lake City.

Game 11: Utah @ Colorado

Old Prediction: Win, 34-21

New Prediction: Win, 34-21

Here’s Why: This is the only prediction that I’m sticking with as I look at the rest of the season. I think that while Colorado has started well, their schedule will wear them down, and they should come back down to earth by the time that Utah travels to Boulder. Colorado and Utah share the same record at 5-2, but Colorado has arguably dealt with an easier schedule, which may speak to their record. Like USC, they haven’t stepped up and really pulled off an upset against a team favored to win, and I don’t think they’ll do it here. I think Utah ends conference play with a solid win before coming home for the Holy War.

Game 12: Utah vs. BYU

Old Prediction: Win, 27-10

New Prediction: Win, 41-17

Here’s Why:  BYU has had, for the most part, a pleasant season. They upset Wisconsin on the road, which has never been done, and they’ve handled their other opponents when they should have. I was predicting them to have another below-average season and stumble into this matchup with a losing record. While that’s not quite the case, they have had some uncharacteristic losses. They beat Wisconsin after a loss to Cal, then suffered another loss in their matchup with Utah State. Their next matchup against NIU will really test the Cougars’ mettle, since the Huskies boast one of the more complete defensive units on BYU’s schedule. All that said, I think BYU still has trouble facing complete teams, and if Utah continues to play as they have, this one won’t be too close.

z.janis@dailyutahchronicle.com

@ZachJanis

 

Zach Janis
An avid sports fan with a knack for writing, Zach is in charge of the sports desk for the Chronicle, and a junior at the University of Utah. Zach is studying Music Education and Communications with an emphasis in Journalism. When not advocating for the Oxford comma, Zach spends his time calling play by play for various sports around the University, and hopes to become a broadcaster after earning his degree.

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