Yes. 600 Words on Why Utah Might be Good

Saturday afternoon I was wrapping up my piece for AllBuffs and going in on Colorado a bit. They’d just lost to Utah and assuming that the Buffs were really going to turn the corner as a program this year, I figured that was a game they’d have won. I said:

But to dance, the ultimate goal of any collegiate team, is to beat the Utah’s of your conference. Those teams you pass by when you glance over the schedule because you’ve already chalked it up in the win column. You don’t necessarily talk about this but let’s be serious, if you’re a fan of an upper tier Pac-12 squad, you dismiss the Utah game.

Look, let’s call a spade a spade here: Utah just isn’t that good. But they’re improving and in sport we’re going to find our way into forced rankings. Someone is going to finish last. That’s just the way competition shakes out. If you’re hoping to find your way to the top half, you don’t lose to the lower half. Hence, I really thought Colorado shoulda won that ball game.

But they didn’t.

Because Larry K is building a competitor in Utah. Like I said, they’re not that good and prone to drubbings like those delivered by Stanford (56-87) and USC (59-76). But beyond that? Average scoring differential in conference play for the Utes is -1.57. To the lay eye or casual observer that suggests that Utah is in ball games with a shot – literally one shot short by that previous number – to win on any given night.

Lucky for us, Ken Pomeroy isn’t all that casual of an observer. I dunno actually. Maybe he’s just an obscene Excel guy, I’m really not sure. But I am sure of the concept that someone with a statistical mind far greater than my could provide some explanation as to what we could make of Utah’s tiny scoring differential. As luck would have it, there’s Luck.

Here is a statistic that takes into account a team’s game efficiencies and scoring differentials along with a whole lot of other things. You can read all about it. As it were, guess who is the 326th luckiest team in America? That’s right: Coppin State. Utah is the 328th which is to say they’re the 20th unluckiest team in the country.


I don’t always love moral victories, but this luck quotient is foreboding of future success for the Utes. Try this tale of two Broncos for example. In 2012, Boise State and Santa Clara finished 331 and 328 respectively in luck. Related to some extent but certainly not exclusively, these two sets of Broncos finished with unenviable records of 13-17 (BSU) and 8-22 (SC). Both rosters were littered with underclassmen, too; seventeen between the both of them.

Now let’s quick check back in with Utah and where they stand again: 328th in luck, 10-11 record, five underclassmen.

Today, one year removed from meddling around as unlucky losers, the Boise State Broncos are 15-6 and the Santa Clara Broncos are 17-7.

But please don’t quote me on any of this! Next season is an eternity away and Utah has incurred significant roster turnover year-over-year since Larry K took charge. To be expected in a brand new program but not really supportive of predictive analysis. Basically I’m saying I’d be flabbergasted if Utah were 17-7 but we’d at least have some intelligent thought behind understanding such a turnaround.

So while Utah may once again be that team in 2013 that gets looked over on the schedule, they really shouldn’t be. Cause they’ll take you for a helluva ride and you’d be lucky to beat ’em. Ask Colorado.

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