The real issue is proving that Utah can compete in the Pac-12. If the Utes lose to Arizona, they'll fall to 6-11 in two seasons of conference membership. Even assuming a victory at Colorado next week, Utah would not have a league win over a decent opponent in other words, one that was not in disarray at the time.
The day after Timpview meets Mountain Crest for the Class 4A state championship, the Utes' contest (kickoff: 8 p.m.) with Arizona offers them a chance for credibility, facing the country's No. 6-ranked offense. That statistic makes this game a referendum of Whittingham's style of play, built around controlling the ball and playing strong defense.
Neither of those elements could sustain the Utes in Saturday's 34-15 loss at Washington. Utah is much more comfortable at home, and Arizona has struggled on the road. But the weather will not be a factor, as Ute fans may have hoped for with a Nov. 17 game in Salt Lake City. Freshman quarterback Travis Wilson and the Ute defense will have to deliver big efforts to overcome the Wildcats' potent attack.
Wilson was maturing steadily until experiencing a disastrous second half in Seattle, completing only 2 of 10 passes for 23 yards and being hounded by the Huskies' rush.
Arizona's defense is not nearly that good, but the way the Wildcats score points, there will be considerable pressure on the Ute offense to keep up. It all makes for the most interesting and important game Utah will play this season.
In a sense, it's bigger than the game with Colorado to conclude the 2011 regular season, when the Utes could have claimed the Pac-12 South title. Utah still advanced to a nice bowl game last year, which would not be the case after a defeat Saturday.
If they lose to Arizona, the Utes officially will have wasted another season when they did not have to meet Oregon and Stanford in the Pac-12's scheduling rotation, as will happen next year.