Brad Rock: Utes fared better against ranked teams back when they were in the Mountain West


SALT LAKE CITY — Back in the innocent Mountain West Conference days, the Utah Utes learned to sneak up on people. They would appear as unexpectedly as a summer cold. Opponents realized too late they had been snookered.

But as Saturday’s game against No. 10 Washington approaches, it’s natural to wonder what happened to those intrepid Utah teams. Top-25 opponents were a delight for the Utes, who in the 1990s won four in a row and five of six. In the late 2000s they claimed four of five against ranked teams. During the 2003-08 seasons, in the pre-Pac-12 days, they went 7-3.

In those early years of self-discovery, the Utes were a daring and dashing story. The better-known schools just kept falling: Pitt, Oregon, Georgia Tech, UCLA, TCU, Alabama. Also on the list of victims was perennially ranked BYU. That was a test all its own. Those were the glory years, even though the Utes were in a smaller conference. During that seven-year period in which they won both the Fiesta and Sugar bowls, four of their seven wins came when the Utes themselves were ranked in the top 10.

Nowadays, though, playing ranked teams has become a clear and present danger. Utah has lost five straight and eight of the last 10. Since joining the Pac-12, the Utes are 6-14 against ranked opponents.

Why is it now harder to win those games than it was a decade, or even two decades ago?

Kyle Whittingham doesn’t shed much light on the subject.

“The expectation is the same as it is every week, and that is to try to win the game,” Whittingham said. “We don’t put a whole lot of stock — or worry, I should say — or concern into who is ranked where or what. We just prepare and get game plans ready and try to win.”

Since their last win over a ranked team — in 2015 against No. 23 Cal — they have lost to No. 4 Washington, No. 9 Colorado, No. 13 USC, No. 19 Washington State and No. 16 Washington.

Several factors have figured into Utah’s declining success against ranked teams. Among them:

Scheduling. It’s easier to beat a ranked opponent if you play New Mexico or UNLV the week before or after the big game, instead of, say, Washington State or Colorado. As time has proven, a steady diet of talented opponents takes a toll.
Injuries. Though all teams have them, during the …read more

Source:: Deseret News – Sports News


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