by Daniel Olsen | Utah is one of 130 FBS teams and has played a lot of different schools for over a century. However, there are 65 of those teams that they have never played.
Today, we look at five new teams the Utes should consider scheduling for the first time. They are in a unique situation with only three non-conference games compared with the 4 that most other conferences allot. They have a variety of levels of difficulty in the non-conference. Today we look at how they can improve their future schedules even more.
1. New Mexico State: Okay, many of you are probably wondering why on earth the Utes would schedule such an easy team. The answer is simple: they’ve never played the Aggies from the south and they enjoy beating easy teams. The Utes haven’t lost to a G5 school since the Aggies beat them in Logan in 2012. They are very well-coached.
The Aggies from the north or “Dairy Utes” as they are lovingly called, don’t look like they will be on the schedule anytime soon as they don’t want to concede anything but a home and home with the Utes. The New Mexico State Aggies, however, are Independent and could really use a big check to come to Rice Eccles Stadium and lose. If they are going to stay afloat they need a lot of big checks.
It would be fun to see a 2-for-1 with the Aggies down in Las Cruces. The Utes (and also every FBS team in Utah) have owned the state of New Mexico in the past. Here’s a quick look at the numbers:
Utah vs New Mexico: 32-2-17
Utah vs New Mexico State: To be determined
BYU vs New Mexico: 45-1-14
BYU vs New Mexico State: 3-0
Utah State vs New Mexico: 13-13
Utah State vs New Mexico State: 31-8
Only the Utah State Aggies have a tied record with their recent conference foe in the Lobos. Basically the Utes can’t go wrong with scheduling either team to keep their non-conference winning streak afloat. They might as well have some fun and give fans a matchup they haven’t seen before in team history.
After some tough series with Florida and Baylor, the Utes will want a break in 2025. This would be the perfect time to throw in New Mexico State in an early November game. The Utes could easily beat the NMSU Aggies that year along with Wyoming and possibly BYU depending on what direction they are heading.
2. Florida State: If there was ever a time to schedule a series with the Seminoles it is definitely now. While they did record a school-best 29 consecutive wins from 2012-2014, they have been a shell of their former selves since their coach Jimbo Fisher took off for Texas A&M and star quarterback Jameis Winston made the not too far trip to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL. Currently Jameis is competing with local BYU Star Taysom Hill for the backup job to Drew Brees in New Orleans.
The Utes need to continue to schedule big Power 5 names if they want the respect that perhaps a team like Oregon gets. The Ducks have no problem scheduling Auburn (another team the Utes have never played) and other big names like Ohio State this year. If the Utes want to be respected in doesn’t hurt to schedule those teams from the South. For that reason, they took BYU off the schedule for a few years to do a series with Florida. Why not schedule the other flagship program in the state? (Sorry, UCF.)
The Utes have another opening for a game in 2027. They could host Florida State in Week 1 before playing two sets of Cougars in Houston and Provo respectively. They could schedule a trip to Tallahassee in a later date.
3. Virginia: Yes, you read this right. Bronco Mendenhall was the last BYU coach who got a game over Kyle Whittingham. Imagine what he can do with a Power 5 team. In just a few years he has built this team from the bottom up. Even though they lost the Orange Bowl, they still got there. They also beat their in-state rival Virginia Tech in the Commonwealth Clash.
Bronco has won just three out of ten against Kyle Whittingham overall, but with a much improved team recruiting at a Power 5 level, he could narrow the gap a little bit. Both are great coaches and the Utes have their own powerhouse (especially in the defense), run game and special teams. It would be just like old times. BYU has a series scheduled with Virginia starting next year (to the dismay of Bronco). It’s only fitting that the Utes do the same.
No games have been scheduled for the Utes yet in 2029. Add this game to the mix. At that point Bronco Mendenhall will be 63 and Kyle Whittingham will be almost 69. Maybe these two coaches will never face each other again unless they can work something out but Kyle Whittingham certainly won’t be complaining about that since he already has the edge in their history.
4. Memphis: The University of Utah isn’t necessarily chomping at the bit to play Power 5 teams in the non-conference. There is a reason for that. The PAC-12 is the only conference to require 9 conference games instead of 8. They need to make those non-conference games count. BYU can be just as tough as a Power 5 game because as one of the better FBS Independents they are regarded as a Power 5 school in terms of scheduling requirements. Throw in the intensity of the rivalry and even in the 9 straight wins the Utes have had to eek out a few close wins.
If the Utes are going to schedule mostly Group of Five and FCS teams in the non-conference then that explains why they haven’t lost a non-conference game since they lost to the Aggies in 2012 back when their venue was still called Romney Stadium. That could change when they host Florida in a couple years. To their credit they did beat Michigan in Harbaugh’s debut in 2015.
My point is it’s time to beef up the non-conference schedule. Yes there is risk of losing but there is also the possibility of being rewarded by the bowl committee for a tougher strength of schedule. The Utes seem to schedule a big name once in a while but mostly they pick easy FCS and G5 teams to play.
Memphis isn’t one of those easy teams. They have established themselves as a top team in one of the more competitive G5 conferences in the American. UCF has dominated for a couple years but the Memphis Tigers took the reins and earned the New Year’s Six bid with only 1 loss in the regular season and a conference championship. They did lose by a few touchdowns to an elite Penn State team.
Enough with teams like Wyoming and Northern Illinois; it wouldn’t hurt the Utes to schedule some good Group of 5 teams. It will prepare them more for conference play than competing against teams they can easily beat by four or more touchdowns. They don’t necessarily have to schedule the National Champion LSU Tigers; the Memphis Tigers will do. This is a solid smash mouth Group of Five team that won’t back down from anybody.
Let’s schedule this game for 2030. Currently the Utes only have Dixie State for Week 1 on the schedule. That can be a warm up game for Memphis.
5. Penn State: Last but certainly not least is the Nittany Lions. The navy and white in State College, Pennsylvania are quite the sight to behold on game day. They have a great atmosphere. At one time things seemed dire after the Joe Paterno era but it looks like they have re-gained their mojo. They won a Big 10 championship in 2016 but didn’t get into the College Football Playoff due to their two losses. Ohio State got the bid for the Big 10 with their only loss of the season being to Penn State.
Most of these teams Utah has never played are schools back East. It would be cool for the Utes to keep improving and get to the point where they can show those East Coast schools what the West Coast is all about.
It will be a while before these two teams possibly play. The Utes have a series with LSU from 2031-2032 so they would want to avoid a murderers row with another Power 5 team those years. They might want to wait until 2033 for this one.
Final Prediction: The Utes already have their non-conference schedule locked up for the next few years but let’s take a look at the best fit for each of these 5 teams. Depending on the direction of these programs I like the Utes to beat at least 3 out of these five teams at least once. They will certainly beat New Mexico State and Memphis whenever they decide to play. Once Bronco is gone Virginia will perhaps be easier again. Florida State at some point should return to prominence and Penn State is always tough so those are the two teams I think the Utes might have a hard time against. It will be fun to see what happens in the years to come.
Featured image courtesy collegefootballnews.com.