Second-half outlook: Utah

Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

UTAH UTES (5-1, 2-0 MWC)

This year’s Utah team has been gritty. It’s pulled out tough wins during the first half of the schedule to remain within striking distance of the Mountain West title. It’s handled adversity with the loss of running back Matt Asiata and remains one of the nation’s best teams.

But like many of the teams in the Mountain West, the schedule takes a tougher turn in the second half. Utah will have to get past TCU and BYU as well as a tough Air Force squad this weekend if it wants to repeat as Mountain West champions.

Best-case scenario: Utah doesn’t have a great chance to make a BCS bowl this season, but it makes it interesting with wins over TCU and BYU. It wins its second consecutive conference title and it starts to garner the same kind of preseason respect Boise State has gotten with its consistent seasons.

Worst-case scenario: The Utes close contest against Colorado State is a sign that they’re going to struggle against some of the better teams in the conference. Utah loses to Air Force and can’t topple TCU and BYU. It finishes fourth in the conference, repeating its 2005 standing.

Prediction: Utah won’t defend its conference title, but it will put up a good fight. It will lose to both TCU and BYU, finish with three total loses, but still finish third in the conference, which will likely put the Utes in the Las Vegas Bowl after BYU opts for the Poinsettia.