SALT LAKE CITY — People expecting the Utah-UCLA game to be worse than a truck race might be in for a pleasant surprise.
Jon Wilner, a writer with the Bay Area News Group, admitted this week that while looking at the Pac-12 schedule, he did not slot Utah-UCLA at the top, middle or bottom of the list of meaningful games.
"It was assigned, along with select others, to a separate category titled ‘Worse Than Truck Races,'" Wilner wrote. "At the time, the Utes and Bruins were at the bottom of the South and the South was at, or very near, the bottom of all Power Five divisions."
The Utes were coming off of a disappointing 0-2 start to conference play, including a loss at Washington State, and the Bruins hadn't won outside of the league and "had been poleaxed by Fresno State."
Wilner is amazed at how two teams so dramatically changed the trajectory of their seasons by the end of October.
"The Utes, the only team in the South without a division title, are the favorites to win it after developing an offense to match their defense," he wrote. "The Bruins, the only winless team in the conference on Oct. 1, are now a half-game out of first place thanks to the meshing of scheme and personnel. Their tussle in the Rose Bowl, amazingly, has division implications for both teams. Of course it’s an indictment on the South, but let’s just enjoy the chaos."
Wilner is excited about one other fact about this Friday night matchup: "The game is on ESPN, not FS1, so it won’t be preempted by a truck race."
Meanwhile, BruinsNation.com is leary about what the Utes' defense might do to the Bruins' offense.
"In researching the Utah defense, I came across the nickname 'Sack Lake City,' which is pretty indicative of the talent that continually rotates out of this school. Utah puts top defensive linemen into the NFL year after year and 2017 was no exception. ... They are continually able to back fill with new talent to replace the old."
The UCLA football website called Utah's defensive stats "ridiculous" — in a good, scary way.
"This will, without a doubt, be the toughest defense the UCLA Bruins have seen so far. So, they are going to have their work cut out for them. Utah was able to stop Southern Cal on their first TEN third downs and it’s definitely not going to be any better for the Bruins.
"What also worries me is the point totals that Utah has been able to put up in the last few games, but that discussion is for another preview. This defensive line is going to be a major test for the Bruin offense, and UCLA can’t afford to lose another quarterback."
At least Los Angeles has another sporting event to watch if the Bruins get crunched.
"When you consider that and their tackle-crazy linebackers and passing-game-ruining secondary, Friday might just be a good time to focus on the Dodgers."
GoJoeBruin.com calls Utah "one of the hottest teams in the Pac-12," and pointed out that UCLA needs to up its game to avoid being "smothered" like the Utes did to USC last week.
A Bruin win, according to that site, will come down to three things: establishing the run game against a tough Utah defense, limiting penalties, and improving its own run defense.