SALT LAKE CITY — We've reached the midpoint of the 2013 college football season.
With local schools having played at least half of their games, it’s a good time to give out midterm grades for those schools and project the second half of the season.
To be 4-2 and receiving a bunch of votes in the latest AP poll thanks to a win over then No. 5 Stanford is certainly better than most people anticipated at this point. Utah's offense is much-improved, thanks to a more mature Travis Wilson, the unforeseen productivity of running back Bubba Poole, a solid offensive line and the influence of co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson. Then there’s a defense that gets better by the week and a never-miss kicker in Andy Phillips. Two losses, one in overtime and the other by a touchdown, keep the Utes from getting an A.
The trick for the Utes now is following up Saturday’s big victory with wins against teams that aren’t supposed to be as good as Stanford. I think the Utes will lose at Oregon and beat Colorado at home and split the other four games, leaving them at 7-5 with a spot in the newly named Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.
The Cougars knew they were embarking on their toughest schedule in school history and that there were bound to be losses along the way. But they probably didn’t figure two of them would be to a mediocre Virginia team and to Utah at home following a bye week. But the offense seems to be hitting its stride with quarterback Taysom Hill not only finally completing half his passes, but 65 percent in the past three weeks. Behind Kyle Van Noy, BYU's defense is consistently strong each week. The Cougars have also overcome the adversity of losing players to injuries and suspensions.
This week the Cougars play Houston, which is unbeaten. But the Cougars from Texas shouldn’t be a problem for BYU, which should also handle Boise State the following week at home. It’s hard to see them beating Wisconsin or Notre Dame on the road, but the rest of the games are winnable. Before their bowl game on Dec. 27 in San Francisco, the Cougars should be 8-4.
Prior to the devastating season-ending injury to Chuckie Keeton earlier this month, the Aggies were realistically looking at a run at the Mountain West Conference title in their first year in the league. Those hopes went down with Keeton and have gotten worse with season-ending injuries to running back Joe Hill, offensive lineman Kyle Whimpey and tight end D.J. Tialavea. The defense had been solid most of the season, but needs more help from the offense right now.
The Aggies could win all of their remaining games, but Wyoming and UNLV are better than expected and two of the contests are on the road, including this week's game at New Mexico. The guess from here is that the Aggies squeeze out three more wins to get to 6-6 and earn a bonus trip to Albuquerque for the Gilden New Mexico Bowl on Dec. 21.
Coach Ed Lamb is the most underrated coach in the state and he’s quietly putting together another solid season in Cedar City. The T-Birds are 5-2 after their most recent win over Portland State and are still in the Big Sky race at 2-1.
A berth in the FCS playoffs is unlikely without a sweep of their remaining games. To do so would mean road wins at Eastern Washington and Montana State — the top two teams in the league. However, wins over Weber State, Idaho State and Northern Arizona would give the T-Birds at least eight wins, which would tie for the most in school history.
OK, nobody expected a championship year from the Wildcats or anything, but there was hope they could be competitive — at least in Big Sky games. However, the Wildcats have not been competitive in any games since an opening 50-40 victory over Stephen F. Austin. They stand 1-6 right now. WSU gave up 70 points to both Utah and Utah State and this past week was shut out by Cal Poly 47-0 while being outgained 580 to 173.
Thank goodness lowly Idaho State is on the schedule, although the Bengals did beat Northern Colorado last week (WSU doesn't get to play Northern Colorado this year). Right now, it looks like ISU might be the only other win on the schedule for the Wildcats and coach Jody Sears in what is likely his final season in Ogden.