This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
It would be easy to discount Utah's three-game winning streak as a product of its schedule since the teams it has beaten are just 7-15 in conference play combined and 9-21 overall.
However, the Utes insist there is more to their success than a friendly schedule.
"Something has just clicked," safety Brian Blechen said.
Whatever that something is has clicked enough to make the Pac-12 South race somewhat interesting.
Thanks to the Utes' success and Arizona State's 1-3 mark since beating the Utes on Oct. 8, the Utes are still alive in the race to represent the South division in the first Pac-12 title game.
For the Utes to accomplish a feat even coach Kyle Whittingham said was impossible after they lost their first three conference games, they must beat Washington State and Colorado, Arizona State must lose its last two games to Arizona and Cal, and UCLA must lose to either Colorado or USC.
The Utes own the tiebreaker over UCLA after Saturday's win, and USC, which leads the division, isn't eligible for the postseason due to NCAA sanctions.
It's hard to imagine such a perfect storm coming to fruition for the Utes, but who would have imagined they would even have a shot at such a finish when they started 0-4 in the Pac-12 and were labeled a BCS bust by some media members?
While reaching the Pac-12 title game would be an immensely satisfying way of finishing their inaugural season in the conference, given the poor start, the Utes are just glad they can feel good about themselves again.
"It's a huge turnaround," offensive lineman John Cullen said. "We were possibly going to have the worst season in years that we've had, and it was a weird feeling. Talk to anyone, and we just don't know how to lose here and to lose that many early. It was definitely a shocker. Now we can finish it really strong."
Of the final three games on the Utes' regular-season schedule, Saturday's contest against UCLA appeared to be the most challenging given the Bruins' position in the standings.
However, Saturday's game at Washington State could be tricky for the Utes, especially since the Cougars are coming off a confidence-boosting 37-27 win over ASU.
Freshman quarterback Connor Halliday threw for 494 yards and four touchdowns in the win and set a school record for most passing yards in a game by a freshman.
Just like the Utes, the Cougars have plenty of motivation, since wins over Utah and Washington would make them bowl eligible.
But as newcomers to the BCS league, the Utes feel they are the ones with more to prove.
"We have to win these two games," Cullen said. "Everyone knows they have losing records and stuff like that and there are people who are always going to doubt you. You could go undefeated and some people would still say some of the wins are lucky. But we know we belong here and are proving it."
Pac-12 title game hunt
Utah hasn't been eliminated from the chance of representing the South in the Pac-12 title game. For that to happen, ASU must lose its last two games, UCLA must lose one of its last two, and the Utes must win out. Here are the three teams' schedules.
Saturday • at Washington State (2-5, 4-6)
Nov. 25 • vs. Colorado (1-6, 2-9)
Saturday • vs. Colorado (1-6, 2-9)
Nov. 26 • at USC (5-2, 8-2)
Saturday • vs. Arizona (1-7, 2-8)
Nov. 25 • vs. Cal (3-4, 6-4)