Every week, we look at the statistics underlying the upcoming Arizona Wildcats football game. This week, we take a look at the Utah Utes and whether Arizona can rack up another home upset against a top ranked opponent in the Rich Rodriguez era.
Despite being ranked #10 in the College Football Playoff rankings, Utah is actually ranked 24th in the country in S&P+. That puts Utah behind USC, Stanford, Washington, and UCLA, at least as far as S&P+ goes. Given that three of those four teams blew out Arizona, it's good to know that Utah isn't that good.
....but that doesn't mean Arizona's chances of winning are very good. According to Bill Connelly's S&P+ projections, Utah has a 74.9% chance of winning on Saturday night. A couple of weeks ago, we talked about how Arizona still had a good chance of making a bowl game despite being underdogs in every remaining game. Those odds are starting to fade as the Wildcats run out of chances to win games.
The big thing separating Utah (ranked 10th in the nation) from Arizona (struggling to pull out a sixth win) is the defense. Utah is ranked 45th in the country in total defense, which is respectable. Arizona is 109th, which is not. The offensive rankings, on the other hand, aren't as different as you'd expect. In total offense, Arizona is 14th and Utah is 80th, but S&P+'s offensive ratings put Arizona at 33rd and Utah at 42nd, which likely indicates Arizona's pace and weak schedule artificially inflated its total offense numbers. Utah's defense, really, is why it is competing for the Pac-12 South crown and Arizona isn't.
When this line first opened, Utah was only a 4.5-point favorite. The line, though, has moved to Utah -6 as people jumped at the opportunity to bet on Utah (or maybe the opportunity to bet against Arizona). I have a hard time believing that Arizona will be able to cover this spread. True, the team showed a lot of heart against USC last week, and there will be a lot of emotion in the stadium for Senior Night. But Utah is a top 10 team with a lot to play for themselves. Arizona has a shot, to be sure, but it will take more than just heart and emotion to pull out this win and secure bowl eligibility this weekend.