It's been quite a year for the Utah football team.
The Utes began the season unranked - just outside of the Top 25. That didn't last long, as they kept picking up huge wins. Eventually, the Utes climbed all the way to No. 3 in the rankings.
Now, after three losses in the last five weeks, the Utes find themselves right back where they started - just outside of the Top 25. This week, Utah looks to finish the regular season on high note when it hosts Colorado.
Buffzone.com caught up with Dirk Facer, who covers Utah for the Deseret News to get his take on the Utes.
Buffzone: Just a few weeks ago, the Utes were ranked No. 3 in the country and talked about as a national title contender. After losing three of their last five, and not even having a shot at the Pac-12 title, what's the mood of the team?
Facer: The Utes were obviously down after the setback to UCLA. It officially knocked them out of contention for a berth in the Pac-12 championship game. Senior punter Tom Hackett said he was heartbroken as he walked off the field at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Although obviously disappointed, the mood of the team is a bit brighter this week. They're determined to claim at least a share of the Pac-12 South title and win six conference games for the first time since joining the Pac-12 with Colorado in 2011. A 10-win season, which would require a victory over Colorado and a bowl triumph, is also a goal.
Buffzone: How has Utah's offense been impacted by the loss of injured running back Devontae Booker?
Facer: Even though backup Joe Williams rushed for 121 yards against UCLA in his first career start, the loss of Booker was keenly felt. The senior was the focal point of the offense. He netted 1,579 of Utah's 3,891 yards of total offense through 10 games. Besides his rushing success (1,261 yards), Booker is second on the team in receiving with 37 catches. Without him, Utah's offense failed to score a touchdown last Saturday — settling for three field goals in the loss to the Bruins.
Buffzone: Like CU, the Utes seem to be banged up in a lot of places. Are there other key players who could miss this game against Colorado, and if so, who?
Facer: Injuries have taken a big toll with 10 starters missing at least one game to injury this season. Last week was especially painful. Freshman receiver Britain Covey, Utah's leading receiver (41 catches) and top punt returner, won't play on Saturday after suffering an unspecified injury early in the UCLA game. The Utes, thus, face Colorado without Booker and Covey. In Whittingham's estimation, the duo accounted for about 80 percent of the offensive scheme this season.
Buffzone: What makes the Utes so good on defense? And how are they most vulnerable on that side of the ball?
Facer: Before replacing Urban Meyer as head coach, Whittingham served as Utah's defensive coordinator from 1995-2004. Consistency has been a hallmark on that side of the ball throughout his tenure with the program. The Utes just seem to reload each season, especially on the line. They have a deep rotation up front. Seniors Jared Norris and Gionni Paul may be the best pair of linebackers in the conference, and sophomore safety Marcus Williams is second in the Pac-12 with four interceptions. As for vulnerability, the Utes are eighth in the conference in passing defense (253 ypg).
Buffzone: Every year, regardless of how good or bad each team has been, CU and Utah play close games. How do you see this one playing out?
Facer: Since all four Pac-12 meetings between the Utes and Buffaloes have been decided by seven points or less, it's tough to predict anything other than another close game. However, injuries to both teams make any projection even more difficult. So, too, do questions like how will the Utes respond to losing out on Pac-12 championship and College Football Playoff hopes? Without Sefo Liufau, though, Colorado proved last week at Washington State that point production may be a problem. That said, I'll guess-timate a Utah victory on "Senior Day" by a score of 31-10.