It's been but a mere four years since the Utah trumping of Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl. After paving the way for the likes of Boise State and Hawaii, Utah may find themselves in a very similar situation this year.
How can I make such a statement with so many other great teams in the hunt for an at large bid?
Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham is no stranger to the tightrope walk that any BCS Buster must walk. As the defensive coordinator under Urban Meyer during the "dream season," he is as familiar with the "BCS-winning formula" as anyone. After all, Utah's 15-10 record against BCS opponents since the BCS was created is better than any non-BCS team in the nation.
Whittingham's key ingredient in his formula: Defense. The Utes took the field in Ann Arbor and after getting, not just some, but a lot of jitters out, (they had 15 penalties for 137 yards) they walked away with an impressive win by any team's standard.
They held a larger, well conditioned, albeit rebuilding Michigan offense, to 203 yards. The Utah defense which last year was tied with USC in allowing the fewest touchdowns through the air with only 9 while snatching 17 INTs, returns almost all of its starters. Whittingham calls it "his best defense to date". Yes, better than any during the short-lived Meyer era.
While the first game highlighted some of Utah's strengths, it exposed some of its weaknesses as most first games do.
Brian Johnson, who we are so used to seeing comfortably rolling out of the pocket and scrambling from danger, looked rather sluggish. He was chased down twice from behind by a defensive lineman during the Michigan game.
His mind seemed to be overly concentrating on not making contact with anyone as he knows his career has been plagued by injury after injury.
Utah has the firepower to play with any team in college football but, if they are to make a legitimate run at the BCS, Johnson must remain healthy. He will find a rhythm in the coming weeks where he feels comfortable and his mind is more focused on play-making.
Secondly, they need to work on their offensive consistency, especially in the red zone. Too often, Utah would march down the field only to see their drive bog down inside the 10-yard line.
Finally, as mentioned above, they must cut down on penalties. If the outcome of the Michigan game was different, it would have been a Utah loss...not a Michigan victory.
This is the Utes' first 3-0 start since the 2004 season. To continue their unbeaten streak, they must take it one game at a time.
I know this sounds really cliché, but it holds true to Utah who always seems to trip up on teams that it should not have a problem with. The 27-0 loss to at the hands of a UNLV team that, last year, went 2-10 overall is a prime example.
They have shown us their ability with a victory over the Maize and Blue of Michigan and steam-rolling a UNLV team that trumped Arizona State the following week.
They are more than capable to set the stage for a battle of unbeatens in Salt Lake City against BYU for the Mountain West Championship on Nov. 22. Now they must show us their heart.