Pac-12 Ultimate Road Trip: Week 4

Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we’re going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can’t-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we’ll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 4

Saturday, Sept. 20

  • California at Arizona

  • Hawaii at Colorado

  • Utah at Michigan

  • Oregon at Washington State

  • San Diego State at Oregon State

  • Georgia State at Washington

  • Byes: Arizona State, Stanford, UCLA, USC

My choice: Utah at Michigan

Why: Another great win for the Pac-12 last week with UCLA’s triumph over Texas. Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley are now neck-and-neck in the Heisman race after three weeks.

With a third of the league on bye this week, we have scattered conference and nonconference games on the docket. While all of them are exciting for the teams and fan bases involved, there isn’t a ton of national appeal for Cal at Arizona or Oregon at Washington State.

Besides, the nonconference games give us an opportunity to explore cities and stadiums we traditionally don’t get to. And why not head out to The Big House to see the Utes take on the Wolverines in yet another Pac-12-Big Ten showdown? Next week we’ll roll into a full slate of conference games, but take the opportunity this week to enjoy one of the few nonconference games left on the docket.

This game is intriguing for several reasons. First, you have the old Mountain West connection between Michigan coach Brady Hoke and Utah’s Kyle Whittingham. Hoke and Co. went 0-2 against Utah during his time at San Diego State. I know; I covered both games. One was a tail-kicking. The other was a fourth-quarter collapse.

Next, both coaches are feeling a little extra heat on their hindquarters heading into this season (though the Pac-12 blog maintains a united front that any hot seat talk regarding Whittingham is still unwarranted at this point). Still, if Utah loses on the road to Michigan, most people wouldn’t see it as a ghastly mishap. If Michigan loses to Utah at home, however, that could be another hole in Hoke’s hull.

And let’s not kid ourselves. Utah is very capable of winning this game. The offensive line is improved, Travis Wilson will have had a couple games to get acclimated, and the Utes boast an elite wide receiver in Dres Anderson and a potentially strong trio of running backs.

For last week’s UCLA-Texas matchup, we talked about the Longhorns still being a brand name, even if the brand isn’t currently strong. The same can be said right now for Michigan. The Wolverines are very much a brand name. But they’ve slipped the past couple of years. They are vulnerable to a team like Utah. In fact, I’m not so sure the Utes wouldn’t be favored or if this game would be a pick ‘em if they were playing at Rice-Eccles.

I’m not yet prepared to call an upset. I want to see what Wilson and Co. look like against Fresno State -- a decent Mountain West team even without Derek Carr. But I’m not ready to put a check in the win column for the Wolverines. This one might be tighter than people think.

You can see the rest of the road trip here.