The UCLA Bruins host the Utah Utes at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, and they do so with very little to gain but a whole lot to lose. They're eight point favorites over Utah, a win is clearly expected. But what does delivering that win prove? Utah surprised BYU with a win at home, but they're 102nd in the FBS in passing yards and 112th in rushing. UCLA still has a top 25 offense, and they've proven that that offense is capable of rolling stalwart programs like Rice and Colorado. A win over the Utes just proves that UCLA can beat up teams that aren't on their level. The real question facing the Bruins is whether they can beat teams that are somewhere near or above their level. The answer so far in 2012 has been "no, no they can't." UCLA will have a chance to revisit the question in coming weeks, but for now they've got Utah.
A loss to the Utes would be a very ugly thing, leave the Bruins 1-3 in Pac-12 play and have long-time fans even more disappointed in Jim Mora's fresh start than they already are. UCLA needs a win here, if only for the sake of appearances. They don't currently look like a wildly successful program, but they still look like a competent one. Were they to lose on Saturday, that won't be such an easy thing to say.
Utah is averaging nearly 115 rushing yards allowed per game. UCLA hs repeatedly demonstrated that the offense is lost without Johnathan Franklin, so hopefully he shows up early and often. UCLA turned the ball over six times against Cal, an echo of their five turnover performance against Houston. The Bruins followed that game with a performance where they didn't turn the ball over once, though they still lost to Oregon State. Hopefully Brett Hundley can bounce back with another interception-free night that nets a different result the second time around.
Utah quarterback Jon Hays is averaging 157 yards per game. Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester, currently the weakest link in the UCLA defense, could lose some heat with a strong performance. They should have some help from the front seven; Utah has given up 9 sacks this season.
UCLA has spent the last few weeks proving doubters of the program to be correct. Anything other than a strong win against Utah is less feeding the doubters than it is starving the hopeful.