Home-field advantage is critical for winning conference championships. So far, the Utes haven't done a good enough job defending Rice-Eccles Stadium against Pac-12 foes.
If Utah wants to compete for a Pac-12 title and claim a coveted Rose Bowl bid, this must change.
Head coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged the importance of defending the home field in his pre-Utah State press conference, according to the Deseret News. "We want to make Rice-Eccles a place that is very tough for our opponents to come in and play. ... We’ve got to do our best to get that corrected."
Unfortunately for Whittingham, the Utes aren't doing any better at home than on the road vs. Pac-12 opponents. Since Utah joined the Pac-12, it is 4-6 at Rice-Eccles and 3-6 on the road.
Winning on the hill used to be impossible for visiting conference opponents when the Utes were in the Mountain West. Utah had a 21-game win streak at home between 2007 and 2010.
That same level of domination hasn't carried over to the Pac-12.
The last conference opponent to visit Salt Lake was Oregon State, and the Beavers won a 51-48 overtime heart-breaker over the Utes. This was a critical game, as the Utes still have No. 2 Oregon, No. 5 Stanford, No. 12 UCLA and No. 22 Arizona State on the schedule. The Cardinal, Bruins and Sun Devils will all travel to Utah.
UCLA visits Rice-Eccles on Thursday. Utah will need all the help it can get from screaming fans and the MUSS. However, a win will be a tall order, as the Bruins already have a high-profile win on the road when they beat Nebraska 41-21 at Memorial Stadium.
After battling the Bruins, the Utes have to face Stanford. Such is life in the Pac-12.
Undoubtedly, the quality of teams visiting Rice-Eccles Stadium these days has increased exponentially since the Utes joined the conference. However, Utah must drastically improve its home record if it doesn't want to be an also-ran in the Pac-12.
Lafe Peavler is a sportswriter intern at the Deseret News. Follow me on Twitter @MasterPeavler
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