Last year the Utes finished the regular season at 8-4 and went on to barely beat Indiana in the Foster Farms Bowl. It was a season that began with high expectations when they hosted the undefeated Washington Huskies for college game day only to barely lose their second game. They went on to drop games late in November when they had an outside chance at winning the PAC-12 South division.
This year the Utes lost a bevy of individuals to the NFL draft. Garrett Boles, an offensive tackle selected by the Denver Broncos in the first round is perhaps the most notable. Star running back Joe Williams was also a big loss as he was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the first round.
The Utes will still have their traditional defensive prowess and special teams perfectionism that has made them an upper tier PAC-12 team. However, they are almost more defensively minded than the Jazz and have almost the same risk to be offensively anemic as their professional basketball neighbors. Troy Williams was good last year but never was able to string together consistent performances. He is projected to be the starter unless someone like Tyler Huntley beats him to it.
The hardest game the Utes will likely face this year will be when they head to the Coliseum to take on the USC Trojans. The Trojans were one of the strongest teams the second half of last season. Their only loss with San Darnold was in Salt Lake City against the Utes. Darnold’s emergence from second string quarterback to Rose Bowl winner made the Trojans a heavy favorite to win the PAC-12 championship and earn a bid to the college football playoff.
The easiest game will likely be the home opener when the Utes host the North Dakota Fighting Hawks. The Hawks don’t measure up to their in state Bison rivals but they will still put up a decent fight in a double digit losing effort.
The most interesting game of the year as always is the Holy War. This is the second game of the year for the Utes and will be their first trip to Provo since 2013 when the Utes barely beat the Cougars by a touchdown as Taysom Hill couldn’t convert anything late.
The Utes “should” win about 7 of their games without trouble. They should be able to beat North Dakota, San Jose State, Arizona State, Arizona, Oregon, Washington State, and Colorado. The main question will be whether they can weather the storms of the new looks Chris Petersen led Washington Huskies or the USC Trojans (both on the road). BYU, Stanford and UCLA won’t be pushovers either.
Prediction: The Utes find a way to open up the season 5-3 only to have a typical 2-2 finish in November. The best Case is they find a way to beat BYU yet again and use that rivalry momentum to carry them to an 8-4 season. The worst case is they lose against the harder teams and beat all the easy teams (except Oregon again) and fall to a barely bowl eligible 6 win season.
There will be times where the Ute faithful is led to believe that they have a shot at the college football playoff. Like past years they may enter October with just one loss. Without a doubt they will fall apart in November though. It’s what they do. This isn’t the Mountain West anymore. It’s the PAC-12 and every other team besides the Utes have managed to win the division since the Utes entered the PAC-12 about a half decade ago.
It will certainly be a season of exciting finishes. Stay tuned for the Cougar and Aggie season previews coming shortly.