After a nearly disastrous start in which they lost two of their first three games, Utah’s football team has done it again. The Utes have put themselves in position to win the South Division of the Pac-12.

With a 4-1 league record, they are almost a lock to win the division; their closest rivals are Arizona State (3-2), UCLA (3-3) and USC (3-3); the Utes have beaten all three of those teams and therefore would win a tiebreaker, if it came to that.

With one exception, they have a relatively easy path during the final month of the regular season, with games against the three worst teams in the league — Stanford (2-4), Arizona (0-5) and Colorado (1-4) — as well as a powerhouse Oregon team (7-1).

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The Utes are poised to win their fourth division championship in the last seven years (in 2015 they finished tied with USC). The homestretch of their season begins Friday night against Stanford, which sits last in the North Division but managed to hand seventh-ranked Oregon its only loss of the season.

So once again the Utes are in first place in the South Division with four weeks remaining in the season. It’s another reminder of how well the Utes have made the transition since joining the Pac-12 from the Mountain West Conference some 11 years ago. If there were skeptics at the time, they’ve been proven wrong. The Utes have raised their game and shouldered their way into the crowd at the top of the league.

The Utes are 81-49 overall since joining the Pac-12 in 2011 and 49-42 in league games. By comparison, Colorado, which joined the league at the same time as the Utes, has produced records of 45-81 and 24-66, winning one division title (and also no conference titles).

Pac-12 records since Utah joined the league in 2011

SchoolOverallPac-12Top-25 finishes
Oregon St.45-8028-651

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During that 10 ½-year stretch, the Utes have ranked fifth in the league in wins, overall and in league play (see box). Only Oregon, Stanford, USC and Washington have won more games during that time. The Utes have also finished in the top 25 of the national rankings four times since joining the league, which trails only Oregon and USC.

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Just for fun, let’s cut the Utes a little slack for their transition into the league. They required about three seasons to adjust to the new surroundings and upgrade recruiting and facilities before they began to assert themselves. They had losing records in league play those first three seasons — 4-5, 3-6, 2-7 — and an overall record of 18-19. In the seven and a half seasons since then they have more wins than any team in the league except Oregon, with 63.

No matter how you quantify it, Utah has become one of the most competitive teams in the league. Utah and Washington are tied for the most players selected in the NFL draft the last six years, at 26. The Utes also have the league’s longest tenured coach in Kyle Whittingham, who has a 139-63 record in 17-plus seasons and a bowl record of 11-3.

The only thing missing from their resume is the conference championship. They are oh-for-two in Pac-12 championship games. That will likely require the Utes to beat Oregon. They’ll meet the Ducks in three weeks and, if all plays out as expected, they’ll meet again in the conference championship. Will this be the year they finally take that next step and win the title?