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Utah's identity is an enduring mystery of the 2021 Pac-12 football season.
We expected a title contender in Week 1 given all the returning talent but instead witnessed mediocrity on both sides of the ball throughout September.
The quarterback change, from Charlie Brewer to Cam Rising, seemed to set the Utes on track. They survived a challenge from Washington State, then produced a devastating second half to wrest control of the division away from Arizona State.
The team we envisioned finally revealed itself — but not for long.
What in the world happened in Corvallis?
The Utes started fast, then crumbled. It was the antithesis of the ASU game, a rollover the likes of which we have not seen from Utah in many years.
And so after two months, we're back to the beginning with the Utes, wondering if their potential can be reached and the South can be won.
With a victory, Utah would remain at least one game ahead of ASU (via the tiebreaker) and hold a three-game lead on the Bruins.
In other words, the South, muddled for weeks, would become a two-team race.
Meanwhile, we know exactly who these Bruins are:
They're better than recent editions — and likely good enough to create job security for coach Chip Kelly — but they aren't quite elite.
They weren't good enough to beat Oregon or Arizona State at home, and they aren't good enough to beat Utah on the road if the Utes are at their best.
Too often, the Bruins' defense has failed them.
Given the division dynamics, this is UCLA's last stand.
For Utes, it's time for the big reveal: Who are they?
Last week: 3-2-1
Five-star special: 4-5
All picks against the spread
Lines taken from vegasinsider.com
All times Pacific
Washington State (+15) at Arizona State
Kickoff: 12 p.m. on FS1
Comment: The deeper we get into the season, the more bye weeks matter — especially if the team with extra rest is also playing at home. That goes double when the visitor is coming off an emotional stretch and has played eight weeks in a row. The Cougars are the only team in the conference that hasn't had a break and could be gassed. The Sun Devils have more than enough playmakers to take advantage. Pick: Arizona State
Colorado (+24) at Oregon
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m. on FOX
Comment: The Ducks are 0-4 against the spread as favorites and would be wise to start stocking up on style points in advance of the first CFP rankings (next week). Then again, even a half-hearted effort should be enough Saturday against an opponent that just lost at Cal by 23. As long as the Ducks don't give away points through turnovers and special teams mistakes, they should find a way to cover. Pick: Oregon
Oregon State (-1.5) at Cal
Kickoff: 4 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks
Comment: Cal's once-stout defense has turned porous, but expect the Bears to load the line of scrimmage to stop OSU's running game and force Chance Nolan to make plays downfield. Let's get straight to the bottom line for the Beavers: Legitimate division contenders find ways to win games like this: on the road, against lesser opponents that are good enough, if given the chance, to win. The past two matchups have been decided by three points, with OSU on top both times. Feels like a three-peat. Pick: Oregon State
Arizona (+15) at USC
Kickoff: 4 p.m. on ESPNU
Comment: Look for Arizona to make use of quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-quarterback Jemarye Joiner as a dual threat from the pocket. If USC pulls another no-show in the Coliseum, this could be closer than expected. Fortunately for the Trojans, Drake London is capable of outscoring Arizona by himself down the stretch. Please note: If quarterback Jaxson Dart is available for USC, the calculation changes. Pick: Arizona
UCLA (+6.5) at Utah
Kickoff: 7 p.m. on ESPN
Comment: What we explained above, plus this: Utah's top defensive player, linebacker Devin Lloyd, will miss the first half due to a targeting penalty last weekend, giving the Bruins an opening to take charge early with their running game. (Oregon State provided a blueprint for attacking the Utes.) This feels like it will break one of two ways: A narrow victory for the visitors or a decisive win for the hosts. Pick: UCLA
Washington (+2.5) at Stanford
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. on FS1
Comment: Stanford can't run the ball consistently or stop the run. Of course, neither can Washington. (The 2016 versions of these teams wouldn't recognize the current iterations.) Meanwhile, the Huskies are on the second leg of back-to-back road games against a home team coming off a bye. Yes, they had an extra day of rest, but that's a difficult assignment for any team, much less one struggling on both sides of scrimmage. Also, they haven't won at Stanford since 2007. Gut check. Pick: Stanford
Five-star special: Oregon State. With a spread of 1.5 points, we're essentially picking the Beavers to win outright. They are the better team, by far.
Straight-up winners: Arizona State, Oregon, Oregon State, USC, UCLA and Stanford
Jon Wilner's Pac-12 Hotline is brought to KSL.com through a partnership with the Bay Area News Group.
Jon Wilner has been covering college sports for decades and is an AP Top 25 football and basketball voter as well as a Heisman Trophy voter. He was named Beat Writer of the Year in 2013 by the Football Writers Association of America for his coverage of the Pac-12, won first place for feature writing in 2016 in the Associated Press Sports Editors writing contest and is a five-time APSE honoree. You can follow him on Twitter @WilnerHotline or send an email at email@example.com.
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