SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The jump to the Pac-12 Conference isn't looking so good right now for Utah, which instead of contending for the South Division title has started 0-4 in league play for the second straight season.
The question is whether the Utes can turn it around, starting at home against a Cal team that has seen its own ups and downs.
"We all know we've got to win," said Utah freshman quarterback Travis Wilson, who makes his third start of the season Saturday night. "Everyone on this team wants to make it to a bowl game. . I think one win will turn it around."
One loss, that one to Cal, jumpstarted the Utes last season as they bounced back to win four straight and five of six, including a Sun Bowl victory.
Injuries to the offensive line could make it tougher this year for Utah (2-5, 0-4).
Plus, Cal (3-5, 2-3) still has its share of playmakers, even if they have struggled at times.
"They've got talent across the board, they just haven't been able to put it together," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Case in point, Cal beat then-No. 25 UCLA and won at Washington State, only to lose 21-3 last week against Stanford, now No. 19.
"We came off two big wins and an emotional loss," Cal coach Jeff Tedford said. "It puts a knot in my stomach to talk about last week. . We took our lumps; now it's time to move forward."
While Utah is on its third quarterback, Cal senior Zach Maynard is in his second year starting.
But it hasn't been easy. He has been sacked 33 times, intercepted eight and lost two of eight fumbles.
Maynard still has one of the Pac-12's top receivers in junior Keenan Allen, who needs just three catches to become Cal's all-time receptions leader. Allen's electrifying style is evidenced by two of his touchdowns this season being nominated for Play of the Year.
Like Utah's offense (last in the Pac-12), Cal's needs a spark after being held to a season-low 3 yards rushing against Stanford.
"It's not just one guy getting beat every single play. It's right tackle here, left guard there, quarterback here ... the whole offense," said left guard Jordan Rigsbee.
A year ago, Utah native Isi Sofele rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown in the 34-10 Cal win at Berkeley.
This season, the Golden Bears' top three rushers, C.J. Anderson, Sofele and Brendan Bigelow, have combined for 1,210 yards — nearly double that of Utah's top trio.
That said, Whittingham is expected to give running back Kelvin York more opportunities after he averaged 5.2 yards a carry in a 21-7 loss to Oregon State.
Also indicative of Utah's offensive struggles is the fact that a tight end, sophomore Jake Murphy, is the Utes' leading receiver with 22 catches for 239 yards. It is the first time a tight end has led Utah in receiving since 1989.
Murphy, son of former Atlanta Braves All-Star outfielder Dale Murphy, scored Utah's only touchdown on an 18-yard pass from Wilson last week against the Beavers.
"When I transferred . in high school, everyone said they would never pass the ball there, and the same thing happened here," Murphy said. "You can't really listen to what people say. You have to trust in your talents. If you believe in your skills, the coaches will find a way to get you the ball."
Defense is where Utah has most of its playmakers. The Utes are ranked second in the Pac-12 (29th nationally) and lead the nation with 13 forced fumbles.
"If there's one knock on our defense, it's not creating enough impact plays, sacks and interceptions," Whittingham said.
Despite NFL-caliber nose tackle Star Lotulelei eating up double- and triple-teams, the Utes have just 13 sacks in seven games. And they have only two interceptions.
Utah's special teams also haven't been so special.
While Cal's Vincenzo D'Amato leads the Pac-12 in field goal percentage (11 of 16) and has made his last seven, the Utes haven't made a field goal in four games. They've also had two blocked this season and are just 3 of 8 overall.
"At some point we're going to need Coleman (Petersen) to make a kick. Hopefully, he will," Whittingham said.
Whittingham, whose Utes are 2-1 at home this season, also knows what it will take to become bowl-eligible for the 10th straight season.
"You do the math," he said. "We're 2-5 with five to go. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what we need to accomplish. That will be the focal point going forward."