Beat the Bears and the Utes could get a little momentum. If they lose, the chances of them winning their last four games, particularly the ones against Washington and Arizona, seem very slim indeed.
Sitting at home in December isn't an appealing thought to the Utes, who have won eight of their nine bowl games since 2002, the last year they were bowl ineligible.
"We don't want to be that team that doesn't make it to a bowl game," quarterback Travis Wilson said. "We have to make sure we get a win, like coach Whittingham said, and turn this thing around."
While they say they aren't panicking, the Utes say they have a definite sense of urgency.
"We've got five games left and we need to make the best of it because I'm never putting on another Utah jersey after that," receiver DeVonte Christopher said. "We have to find a way to make it happen."
A year ago, Cal handed Utah one of its worse losses in years, beating the listless Utes 34-10 in San Francisco.
That loss was the turning point for the Utes, who went 5-1 the rest of the way and earned a trip to the Sun Bowl. That stretch run gives the Utes hope they can pull off a similar feat this year, particularly since they've already faced the Pac-12 leaders.
Of the teams they have remaining, only Arizona (4-3, 1-3) has a winning record. Of course, as the Utes learned last year, even struggling teams such as Colorado aren't guaranteed wins.
"There are no easy games in the Pac-12," safety Eric Rowe said. "We know we don't have a lot of room for error and we aren't going to take anyone lightly."
Whittingham continues to maintain his team is better than its record but simply hasn't been able to finish drives or games.
"We aren't making the four or five pivotal plays a game we need to," he said. "We've got to do a much better job finishing."
Cal's season has been similar to the Utes' with the Bears posting inconsistent results.
They lost to Nevada in the season opener but played Ohio State tight, losing 35-28 in Columbus, and upended UCLA 43-17 before losing to Stanford 21-3 at home a week ago. Tight end Jake Murphy said the Utes can identify with Cal's struggles, acknowledging this year has been hard on the team because it feels it is better than the record reflects.
"We know how talented we can be and we know we can win in this conference," he said.
"Coming in, we knew we had weapons and we still know we have weapons," he added. "But it's up to us to execute. If we lock everything down properly, we can be successful."
Cal at Utah
P At Rice-Eccles Stadium
Kickoff • 7:45 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Networks
Radio • 700 AM
Records • Utah 2-5, 0-4; Cal 3-5, 2-3
Series history • Cal, 5-3
Last meeting • Cal won 34-10, Oct. 22, 2011
About the Utes • The Utes are coming off a 21-7 loss to Oregon State in which they held the Beavers to 226 yards. … The Utes have been outscored 62-28 in the first quarter. … Offensive lineman Jeremiah Tofaeono and linebacker Jacoby Hale are out with injuries.
About the Bears • Receiver Keenan Allen averages seven catches and 84.5 yards a game. … Steve Williams and Kameron Jackson are tied for ninth in the league averaging 0.38 interceptions. … Senior running back Isi Sofele is a graduate of Cottonwood H.S. … They are coached by Jeff Tedford, who is 82-53 in 11 years.