This is an archived article that was published on in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It is strange to say about a team that beat Utah soundly, but USC's vulnerability makes this season a missed opportunity for the Utes.

Even if they beat UCLA this weekend and advance to the Pac-12 championship game, the Trojans will finish only 6-3 in conference play. Via some combination of NCAA sanctions and coaching upheaval, USC has given other Pac-12 members bonus chances to succeed in this decade. UCLA (twice), Arizona State and Arizona have capitalized in various seasons, and UCLA may do it again. Utah and Colorado have not done so.

By beating Colorado, Utah will earn a share of the South title with USC or UCLA at 6-3. The only problem is the other co-champion will advance to the Pac-12 championship game against Stanford, thanks to having beaten Utah.

Ultimately, the loss that will haunt the Utes is their 30-27 double-overtime defeat at Arizona. Because of subsequent developments, the Utes could have absorbed last Saturday's 17-9 loss to UCLA if they had beaten the 6-6 Wildcats.

So part of the story of 2015 will be how the Utes failed to take full advantage of their 4-0 record against North opponents, while continuing to struggle against their South rivals. Even if they beat Colorado, the Utes will have a losing record in divisional play for the fourth time in their five seasons as Pac-12 members.

Utah is 8-16 vs. South teams and 11-9 vs. North opponents. Take away Colorado, and the Utes are 5-15 against the other South members — including this year's breakthrough victory over Arizona State.

The Utes caught a scheduling break this season by not facing Stanford and Washington State, two of the North's top three teams. That will be the case again in 2016, and the Utes may be able to extend their five-game winning streak against North schools. Then again, the other South teams should improve.

Even if they do create a sign or banner for their South co-championship in 2015, the Utes will remember that they cost themselves a trip to the Pac-12 title game by losing to USC, Arizona and UCLA. And they had their chances in the last two defeats, especially. In a period of 20 minutes, 22 seconds in the second and third quarters against UCLA, the Utes possessed the ball for 18:31. Yet their three nice drives in that stretch resulted only in field goals, and two other lengthy possessions ended with fumbles — including one on Utah's final offensive play that started at the UCLA 33-yard line.

Twitter: @tribkurt