SALT LAKE CITY — It's hard to believe September is almost behind us. The Utes navigated the month pretty well, playing three games, winning two, and coming up just short in the other. After Utah's bye last weekend, it's now nine straight weeks of football for the Utes, and as the coaches like to say, the grind begins now.
The Utes now get to address the one question that has dogged them since the invitation to the Pac-12 was extended over a year ago: Can Utah stand up to the week-in, week-out grind of a BCS conference schedule? There has been no question that Utah football teams during the last eight seasons have been able to compete when matched up occasionally in regular season and bowl matchups with BCS-level programs.
Since 2003, the Utes are 16-6 against BCS schools, but the argument has always been: Would that record be the same if they played high-level competition every week? Well Ute fans, you are about to find out.
Beginning Saturday, in front of a sold-out crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Kyle Whittingham's team will make its Pac-12 home debut and begin a stretch of nine consecutive opponents from BCS leagues. The schedule-makers couldn't have set Utah up any better in its first season in the Pac-12, with its toughest remaining games coming at home in the next two weeks against Washington and Arizona State.
This isn't to say there aren't potential land mines ahead, but gauging things from the first month of football, if the Utes can take care of business Saturday and a week from Saturday, then an appearance in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game is a real possibility.
So, what is the biggest issue impeding the progress of the Utes? Most experts will tell you that the Utes don't have the depth to compete on a weekly basis in the Pac-12. Those same experts will tell you the Utes don't have the overall depth of talent, because they haven't been able to recruit at the same level as the rest of the league. My response? We will soon find out.
Do the Utes have the same talent as USC, Stanford or Oregon? Probably not players one through 85. But how many programs in the country do? Not many.
But I maintain that the talent on the Utes' roster is as good or better than everyone else in the Pac-12. Think that Mike Riley or Mike Stoops might want to trade rosters with Kyle Whittingham? How about Rick Neuheisel or Paul Wulff? Why is it nobody is questioning their abilities to compete week-in and week-out?
They've been recruiting for years in the Pac-12 and the talent levels in their programs is sorely lacking.
Questioning Utah's talent, depth and ability to compete weekly is a tired argument. For most programs, a team's success is cyclical — there are good years and bad years. The measure of a good program is to minimize those bad years. Over the last eight seasons Utah is 79-22. There have been no bad years and many outstanding seasons.
This isn't to say there won't be tough times or that Utah is without depth issues this season. Three major areas of potential concern loom for the Utes as this nine-game grind begins. Quarterback, running back and offensive line all have precious little depth and experience behind its starters. Will these areas be exposed during the grind? Only time will tell.
But I'm confident that the talent in the Utah program is good enough to show that the Utes belong.
Bill Riley can be heard as the radio voice of the University of Utah on game days and also on weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on the "Bill and Spence Show" on ESPN Radio 700 AM.
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