This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
BYU is almost good enough to win the Pac-12 South football championship.
Whether you view that as a compliment to the Cougars or a commentary about the teams actually competing in the division, here's the truth: The 2016 title is Utah's for the taking.
USC stopped messing around long enough to beat the Utes and win the South championship via a tiebreaker last season. Yet the Trojans have reverted to their dysfunctional, talent-wasting selves as they prepare for Friday's game vs. Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
So for all the opportunities the Utes have squandered in three of the previous five seasons, when they couldn't follow through and qualify for the Pac-12 title game, they'll have another good shot this year.
Regardless of how good (or not) BYU is, none of the Cougars' three opponents from the South has distinguished itself any more than the others. If anything, Utah gets extra credit for overcoming six turnovers to beat BYU 20-19.
Making a case against any of the other programs is easier than taking the affirmative side, that's for sure.
USC? The Trojans lost to Alabama by 46 points, already have made a quarterback change and look like classic underachievers again.
UCLA? Held to 17 points in Provo, the Bruins couldn't put away BYU until an onside-kick attempt went out of bounds in the last minute.
Arizona State? The Sun Devils are proud to have completed the school's biggest comeback on the road in 14 years. The problem was having the rally at Texas-San Antonio become necessary, after ASU trailed by 16 points in the third quarter.
Arizona? A week after scoring 16 points against BYU and allowing a drive for a last-second field goal, the Wildcats trailed FCS member Grambling State 21-3 at halftime before recovering.
Colorado? The Buffaloes have been the South's most impressive team, compared with recent performances and current expectations. But they're not going to win the division. Four conference wins and bowl eligibility would be a major advancement.
So everything sets up nicely for the Utes, who should be favored in their first four conference games: vs. USC, at California, vs. Arizona and at Oregon State. And then they'll face UCLA at the Rose Bowl, where they won in 2014.
UCLA (twice), Arizona State, Arizona and USC have claimed the first five titles awarded in the Pac-12 South, so this logically is Utah's turn. The Utes have had their chances. In 2011, with USC ineligible, Utah could have taken the title by beating Colorado in the regular-season finale, but a 17-14 loss ruined everything.
By losing at home to Arizona in 2014, the Utes missed out on a potential four-way tie that would have sent them to the Pac-12 title game. And even after losing 42-24 at USC with a 6-0 record and No. 3 ranking last year, the Utes could have won the division by beating either Arizona or UCLA. But they lost to the Wildcats in overtime and couldn't score a touchdown against the Bruins.
The conference's depth is such that no team from the South will go unbeaten, but that's not necessary.
The Utes have to win the right games, beginning Friday. In five seasons of Pac-12 membership, Utah is 11-9 against North teams, but only 9-16 against South rivals (5-15, other than Colorado). That has to change.
This, seemingly, is the perfect time to be catching USC, although I may have said so in 2013 and '15, when the Trojans were playing for interim coaches and their seasons were collapsing. In contrast, USC appeared stable under Steve Sarkisian in 2014, when Utah made a fourth-down stop and Travis Wilson led a last-minute touchdown drive for a 24-21 win.
So who knows how the Trojans will perform Friday, in their current state? What's clear is that if Utah ever is going to win the Pac-12 South title, this is the year.
USC at No. 24 Utah
P At Rice -Eccles Stadium
Friday, 7 p.m.
TV • FS1