SOS Series: Utes Football Preview

Strength of schedule is completely speculative…… right? There is no way we can predict how hard the schedule will be based on predictions or even results.

The truth is that unless someone can find a sports almanac from five years from now like Biff did in Back to the Future II, there won’t be any completely accurate prediction anytime soon but that doesn’t mean one can’t try. Here are the games for the Utes ranked from toughest to easiest.

SOS Key

Tier 1 games: The Highly Doubtful games

These games are a 0-25% chance that Utah will pick up a win.

Are there any? No seriously. The PAC-12 is down. The Californias are down. Washington is rebuilding. Arizona is just Khalil Tate offseason hype. Stanford isn’t up. Arizona State is only up when they play the Utes. Oregon has been in somewhat of a hibernation compared to previous years even though Justin Herbert looks promising. Who’s got next? Maybe the Utes do just because there is no clear cut favorite. Also, how weak is that non-conference schedule? BYU is always tough despite the Utes rivalry winning streak involving many close victories. It’s a coin flip even in the Cougar’s home opener with both teams healthy.

Back to the Tier 1 games. Based on coaching alone there is just one team in Utah’s schedule this year that has owned the entire state of Utah:

1. Utah at Washington: Has Chris Petersen EVER lost to a school from Utah? Let’s look at his resume:

With Boise:

2006:

W vs Utah 36-3

W vs Utah State W 49-10

2007:

W vs Utah State 52-0

2008:

W vs Utah State 49-14

2009:

W vs Utah State 52-21

2010:

W vs Utah State 50-14

W vs Utah 26-3

2012:

W vs BYU 7-6

2013:

W vs Utah State 34-24

L vs BYU 37-20

With Washington

2015:

W vs Utah State 31-17

L vs Utah 23-34

2016:

W vs Utah 31-24

2017:

W vs Utah 33-30

2018:

W vs Utah 21-7

W vs BYU 35-7

W vs Utah 10-3

Overall Record vs Beehive State: 15-2

So let’s get this straight. Petersen’s only two losses in our state were to:

1. A Taysom Hill led BYU team

2. His first matchup with the Utes on a rebuilding Huskies team.

It’s Chris Petersen’s world and the Beehive State is still living in it. It doesn’t matter that starting QB Jake Browning has graduated. The Utes will play checkers while the Huskies play chess.

Final Score Prediction: Washington 13 Utah 3

Tier 2 games: Pick ‘Em

These games are a 25 -50% likelihood of winning.

2. Utah at USC: The Utes only have 5 road games but this is one of the tougher ones. Based on their schedule I would consider 3-2 a successful road record for the Utes provided they take care of business in their mostly easy home schedule.

Let’s not overlook USC because they’ve been “down”. USC Down is whenever they don’t make the Rose Bowl.  Also, the Utes don’t have a history of doing well in the Coliseum.  Two years ago Utah decided to go for a two point conversion to win at Southern California.  They literally tried to pull a Trojan Horse on the Trojans.  How did that work out?

Yes it’s true that USC doesn’t have Mark “Butt Fumble” Sanchez or Sam Darnold.  However, JT Daniels is no scrub.  It’s true that USC did win only five games last year but JT was only a true Freshman.  Ironically, this made them 3rd in the Pac-12 South.  To say it was a down year for that division of the conference would be an understatement. It will be interesting to see if he can make the jump into the upper echelon of teams not only in their division but the conference and, perhaps, the nation.  There is no magic pill to give Trojans fans solace in bets on their team to win the South Division.  Take this SB Nation article title for example.

However, I think that the Receiver U Trojans have the weapons to get the job done.  They will be going back home a week after getting upset by another school from the Beehive State in BYU.  This will lull the Utes into a false sense of security, handing them the first loss of the season.

Final Score Prediction: USC 20 Utah 17

3. Arizona State at Utah: Utah hasn’t beaten Arizona State since Obama was President.  They were on a four game winning streak and then ran into the brick wall from Tempe, AZ!  Expect Coach Whittingham to have the defense playing better this year as they allowed 536 total yards.  Yikes!

When these teams duel in the desert it’s a 50/50 toss up.  Utah lost the battle on turnovers, total passing yards and rushing yards.  That is thanks to a stout defense. The Utes need to win at least 2 out of those 3 battles.  I think the Utes will win the turnover battle to make the game close but it will be tough to win the other two battles. Zach Moss will keep the running game going but Eno Benjamin is arguably the best running back in the conference. Kyle is a ground and pound guy so he will work to keep the Utes fine tuned for this game.  It will then be up to the Utes to execute.  It will be a good game but ultimately the Arizona Sun Devils will still reign supreme until the 2020 Presidential election begins next year.

Final Score Prediction: Utah 41 ASU 45

Tier 3 games: Should wins

These games have a 50 to 75 percent chance of a Utes win.

4. Utah at Arizona: Khalil Tate was supposed to be the bee’s knees.  Unfortunately his knees got taken out from under him.  In former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin’s first year the Wildcats weren’t singing a happy tune as they just missed bowl eligibility with a 5-7 record.  What stung worse is they missed a field goal over their rival Arizona State Sun Devils that would have made them bowl eligible.

This year should be a bounce back year for Arizona.  They fortunately don’t have to face any Cougars this year.  They were a miserable 0-3 vs BYU, Houston and Washington State respectively.  With a year under his belt, Sumlin has a chance to fix some things in the trenches.  Arizona has the talent to eek out bowl eligibility but it won’t be over the better teams in the conference.  Their wins will come over teams like Hawaii, Northern Arizona, Colorado, UCLA and Oregon State.  The rest of the teams will be tough outs.

The Utes don’t historically have problem with this Grand Canyon state university in the Saguaro Desert.  Their problem is the devils in the desert.  The Utes will win this one in a game that is close the first half but they will ultimately run away with the victory.

Final Score Prediction: Utah 31 Arizona 17

Tier 4 Games: Definitely 99.9% chance of winning

5. Utah at BYU: It’s tough to call any rivalry game a foregone conclusion.  The anemic Utah State Aggies of the early 2000s looked like they would never beat their older brother Utes or Cougars but they were able to break their 15 and 17 year droughts respectively.

BYU has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory more than a few times in their losing streak. They have managed to lose on a two point conversion, 3 times on a last second field goal attempt in 2012, the Las Vegas Bowl, and last year’s 20-0 halftime lead.  To say that they are in their own heads would be an understatement.  They play out of their minds hard because the rivalry often means more to the perennial loser than winner.

The Cougars are playing harder than the Utes in the majority of these losses but they don’t always play smarter.  You can blame that on the players but I think this has more to do with coaching.  Taysom Hill is athletic enough to get a 2 point conversion attempt but the Utes defense read that play in 2016 like a book and attacked him on the gap.

BYU returns a better team than the one who barely lost to the Utes last year but the Utes return star quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zach Moss.  This will be another nail biter but as long as there is time left on the clock, the Utes are favored in this one until proven otherwise. Pick Utah but by a close spread.

Final Score Prediction: Utah 24 BYU 21

6. UCLA at Utah: The Bruins coach has a “Chip” on his shoulder, no pun intended.  UCLA obviously missed Josh Rosen more last year than the Arizona Cardinals feel they will as they dumped the Bruins quarterback after a year for the stout two sport superstar Kyler Murray.  The Bruins are a little bit of a reclamation project.  It’s hard to change a school overnight that has been mostly a basketball school.  The Utah State Aggies managed to do it in a Group of 5 league but in the Power 5 level the play is so great that it takes a lot to go against the grain of history.

Expect Chip Kelly to hound his offensive line and respective coaches to create a modest improvement in the trenches, but not enough to turn heads.  It will be a couple years before we see anything close to 2010 Oregon.  The Utes will take care of business in this one even though this game happens to be played in their historically least successful month of November.

It certainly makes college football fans scratch their heads at how a team could be nationally ranked most of the season then drop games to teams like Colorado.  If and when the Utes lose potentially critical games in November, they will be to a high quality team like Washington.  As long as they only have 3 losses at the end of the year, that should be enough again to win in this version of the PAC-12 South. Judging by our score prediction, the Bruins will be in “double trouble” the moment they step the field.

Final Score Prediction: Utah 42 UCLA 21 

7. California at Utah: The Utes don’t always beat California but when they do, they prefer to do so on College Gameday.  That’s what happened in 2015 in Utah’s first appearance on the show since they joined the PAC-12.  They were undefeated and ranked #5 in the AP poll going into that game.  The Utes have had mixed results in this game but you can expect College Gameday to come again if the Utes are 7-0 going into this game.  Perhaps the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square will be singing “Utah Man” at College Gameday as they did four years ago if that happens.

I think the Utes should have about two losses going into this game though.  Arizona State and USC will be tough.  The Utes just have too many weapons that they will be dangerous even if Britain Covey suffer’s his 100th injury.  The Utes shouldn’t always expect to fare well without Zach Moss and Tyler Huntley so it will be up to every single player in that locker room to ensure the Utes get this win.

8. Washington State at Utah: Utah is looking for revenge in this one.  They should have won against the high flying offense of Mike Leach last year but didn’t make enough plays to win.  They let the Cougars hang and these Cougars weren’t afraid.  Gardner Minshew is a Jacksonville Jaguar now.  Luke Falk plays for the Jets.  Washington State quarterbacks are the only ones winning here.  The style of offense they play allows them to put up big stats so they can make NFL rosters without having to start and put their body on the line.

It’s easy to feel sorry for Washington State.  They have the smallest seating capacity and still didn’t get the Apple Cup over their rival Washington in their best year.  They are Oregon State with an offense.  At least they are in the PAC-12 but, like Colorado, UCLA and Arizona, they are just another team.  The Utes will win this game if they take their opponent seriously AND play like their season depends on it, because it does.  Count on the Utes to flip last year’s score upside down and smile that frown away.

Final Score Prediction: Utah 28 Washington State 24

9. Northern Illinois at Utah: Utah let Northern Illinois get close last year.  Northern Illinois plays for the lowly MAC.  They’ve had their moments but the final score doesn’t reflect how much closer this game was than it should have been.  The Utes were only ahead 7-6 with just under seven minutes left in the game.  The Utes were lucky that their Lou Groza Award kicker out of Orem High School, Matt Gay, made it a two possession game by nailing a 40 yard field goal to make it a two possession game.  A late interception put the game away.

This time the Utes get the Huskies at home.  This isn’t the Washington Huskies but Northern Illinois has ironically been the best team in the state of Illinois.  That is including Northwestern, the fighting Illini and yes, Da Bears.  It isn’t a stretch to say that Matt Gay, let alone the Huskies kicker Andrew Gantz could kick the ball better than NFL kicker Cody Parkey did for the Chicago Bears last year.

Since this game is in Salt Lake City I’m expecting it to be Sack Lake City.  The Utes played a great defensive game last year but weren’t quite awake yet offensively.  They cruised over Weber State and got a wake up call the second game that carried over to the disappointing game at Washington.  This year I expect BYU to be a wake up call in week 1.  I’m expecting the Utes to win but by the skin of their teeth which should make them hopefully be hungry to stomp Northern Illinois the next week.  If BYU beats Utah then watch out NIU.  Utah is going 11-1 to try to appease the donors after that.  Anything less than a double digit win is disappointment and I expect the Utes to learn from last year and not wait until the last 5 minutes to put the Huskies away.

Final Score Prediction: Utah 28 NIU 10

10. Colorado at Utah: If you search “Guy on a buffalo” on Google it will return about 220 million results.  However, if you search “Colorado buffaloes football” it will return only 2.8 million results.  It is the Internet age and Colorado football hasn’t been good since the 1800’s when buffaloes roamed everywhere.  Yes it is possible the Utes blow this game since it is the last game of the season but it depends on what they are playing for.  If they are on a roll and a win gets them another PAC-12 title game then they will do whatever it takes to win here.  They could even go down 20-0 in the first half and come back.  Ok, let’s not tempt fate though.  The Utes will win IF they play like the injured Utes with a chip on their shoulder from last year and not the entitled “We’re just happy to be in a P5 conference” Utes that have historically been a no show in November since they joined the PAC-12.

Final Score Prediction: Utah 32 Colorado 24

11. Utah at Oregon State: This is the only gimme in the PAC-12.  Norbert and Daggett are still very angry Beavers because the Oregon State Beavers are bad.  Not even former great Ute Assistant Coach and current Utah State head coach Gary Andersen could turn that program around.  The Utes will win as long as their plane takes off and lands safely in the Beaver State.  The way football is played there, you’d think it was nicknamed the Duck State.  Utah “dams” the brownish orange beavers by a very large amount.

Final Score Prediction: Utah 84 Oregon State 0

12. Idaho State at Utah: Utah hasn’t lost to an FCS team since they lost to the Idaho Vandals in 1993.  Ironically, their only other loss to an FCS opponent was to Boise State back in 1980.  The Potato State isn’t a sleeper on the gridiron in a state where farming and football reign supreme.  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. That was back when the Utes were a member of the WAC though.  The WAC wasn’t a top tier Division 1 conference.  Since they have been in the Mountain West and especially the Pac-12, Utah has had a few close calls to Weber State and Montana State.  By close I mean two possession games though.  For this game, anything less than a 3 possession game will be a disappointment.  Expect the Utes to put this game away early.  They are too fast, too strong and too good.

Final Score Prediction: Utah 34 Idaho State 7

Conclusion: Utah will have a loss in September, October and November, keeping them in the AP Top 25 voting for the majority of the season.  They will once again play for a double digit win season in a decent bowl game.  I think a 3 loss season is again good enough to make it to the PAC-12 title game but again, the North Division will reign supreme.  Utah will win their bowl game if they get a favorable matchup.  Last year was an anomaly.  Count on at least another 9 win season for the Utes.  Their strength of schedule is certainly weak but, as we saw with the Aggies last year, an easier schedule results in a better record.  I’d put the Ute’s SOS at just outside the top 70 at #71 in the nation.  They would have to either run the table or maybe have a 1 loss season to make the college football playoff.  At this point they’d love the Rose bowl, but they’d take the Holiday Bowl again. I think they will lose the championship to the North again but avenge last year’s bowl loss in the Holiday Bowl. Chalk up 10 wins for the Utes when the 2019 season is all said and done. Double digit wins is a good club to be in.

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