Utah fans aren’t the only ones drinking the Kool-Aid this offseason as the football program has received a lot of praise and national media attention this year.
Ranked No. 14 in the AP Preseason poll — its highest preseason ranking in school history — the Utes have high expectations with a number of key starters returning from a team that won the Pac-12 South title last year.
In fact, the Utes were not only chosen to repeat as South champs this year, but have been picked to win the program’s first Pac-12 Championship.
Taking it one step further, ESPN’s Lee Corso — who unveiled his picks on College GameDay last week — said that he believes the Utes will not only win the Pac-12 championship, but will make the College Football Playoff. Not only that, but Corso said that he expects the Utes to beat Clemson — last year’s national champion — before falling to Alabama in the championship game.
With depth and talent at every position, as well as a soft schedule — avoiding Oregon and Stanford in Pac-12 play — the Utes are a legitimate threat to challenge for a playoff spot. The biggest question is if the team can stay healthy after seeing a number of starters go down with season-ending injuries last year.
Will the Utes be smelling the roses this year? Check out my game-by-game predictions for the Utes this season.
Idaho State: Every year there are several FCS teams that upset FBS opponents. But don’t expect Idaho State to pull anything off against Utah in what should be another blowout victory for the Utes. The last time these two teams got together, Utah walked away with a 56-14 victory and fans can expect more of the same this year.
Northern Illinois: You can bet Kyle Whittingham will have his guys focused on this game after nearly falling on the road to the Huskies in the 17-6 victory. Thankfully, Chase Hansen returned an interception for a touchdown to help propel the Utes to victory. Unfortunately for the Huskies, the team lost a number of key pieces from last year’s team, including two-time All-American defensive end Sutton Smith. Ute fans can expect a blowout victory in its home opener.
Oregon State: Let’s be honest. Oregon State is by far the worst team in the Pac-12 and the Utes will have the game wrapped up by halftime. The Beaver defense can’t stop anyone, giving up 45 points per game and more than 530 yards of total offense last year. Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss will put up huge numbers against the Beavers in what is pretty much a bye week for the Utes.
Arizona: When you look at Arizona you just have to scratch your head. Yes, they will upset a few teams, but they will also lose to teams it shouldn’t, as was the case last week in an opening season loss to Hawaii. With star quarterback Khalil Tate and running back J.J. Taylor, the Wildcats will be a threat to score on every play. However, Tate is often injured and the Wildcat defense is nothing to be afraid of. Utah has dominated the series as of late, and fans can expect to see that trend continue.
Colorado: What happened to Colorado? After losing 40 of their first 45 since joining the Pac-12, the Buffs took home the South title in 2016 and it seemed as though things were starting to look up for the program. Nope! It didn’t last long as Colorado quickly returned to the basement where they have remained. Utah has dominated the Buffs winning six of the last eight games and should have no problem taking care of business at home in November.
UCLA: No team had more of a disappointing season than UCLA last year with new head coach Chip Kelly looking to restore the program to national prominence. Yet, the Bruins started the yer 0-5 for the first time in school history. However, the underclassman managed to step in and save the day with wins over USC, Arizona and Cal to end the season. The Bruins will put up a fight, but the game should be over by the third quarter as Utah’s offense should have a field day against a defense that gave up 445 yards per game last season. Utah has averaged 47 points per game over the past three contests against the Bruins and fans can expect more of the same this year.
Arizona State: You better believe the Utes have this game circled on the calendar after what happened last year. In the 38-20 loss in Tempe, not only did Utah lose the game, but it also lost starting quarterback Tyler Huntley to a season-ending injury. Arizona State won’t likely be as good as they were last year, but they do bring back a number of pieces, including star running back Eno Benjamin. But for whatever reason, Arizona State just matches up well against the Utes, having won six of the past eight games. True freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels won the starting and with Utah’s star-studded defensive line, don’t be surprised to see the Utes force a lot of turnovers and end the streak against the Sun Devils.
BYU: The Cougars nearly ended the streak last year after going up 27-7 late in the third quarter. Yet Utah managed to score 28 consecutive points to push the winning streak to eight games in what was the largest comeback victory against BYU in program history. Utah is currently a six-point favorite over BYU, with the past six games having been decided by an average of five points. The game always seems to be close and this year should provide another classic showdown between these two teams. With the game being played in Provo and Utah’s key players all making their first appearance since going down with season-ending injuries last year, as well as the Cougars motivated to stop the streak, I feel this game will be a lot closer than most people think.
California: Like Utah, California prides itself on its defense and relies on heavily on beating opponents in low-scoring games. While Utah’s offense has made great strides over the last several years, the Golden Bears have gone backwards. Unlike most Pac-12 teams, the Bears can’t score, averaging a league-worst 21 points points per game last season. The Golden Bears do return their entire secondary which led the NCAA with 21 interceptions. If the Bears can somehow find a way to score this year, they could be a serious threat to the Utes. Expect this game to be low-scoring with Utah pulling away in the fourth quarter.
USC: This game is arguably the most important of the season for Utah as it will most likely decide the Pac-12 South title when these two team go head-to-head in September in a nationally televised game on FS1. Yet despite its highly touted recruiting classes over the years, USC finished last season with a disappointing 5-7 record — one of its worst seasons in decades. The Trojans do return quarterback JT Daniels who looks to have a breakout season under new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell in his pass-happy scheme. Utah hasn’t won at USC since 1916 after falling in a heartbreaking contest in 2017 on a missed two-point conversion. However, with the game being played in Week 4, we’ll see just how fast USC can gel as a team after last year’s disappointing season. You can bet the Trojans will be ready to play with head coach Clay Helton on the hot seat, however, the schedule does not do them any favors with games against Stanford and BYU before hosting Utah.
Washington: For whatever reason, the Huskies just have Utah’s number. In two games last year — including the Pac-12 Championship game — Washington held Utah’s offense to a combined 10 points. This year the Utes look to end the streak an avenge last year’s Pac-12 title loss. If there was as any time to beat the Huskies, this year seems like the best time to do it as Washington looks to replace 13 starters, including nine on defense. However, playing at Husky Stadium is never easy and with 5-star Georgia transfer Jacob Eason under center — after transferring in 2018 — the Huskies just look to simply reload and defend its Pac-12 title.
Washington State: Like Washington, the Cougars also have Utah’s number. While USC has better athletes, the Cougars check in at No. 2 simply because they know how to get things done and play together under head coach Mike Leach. Since 2012, the Cougars have beaten the Utes four straight times and its air raid offense has given Utah’s defense fits over the years. Fortunately for the Utes, the Cougars will be breaking in a new quarterback, however, Wazzu had this same problem last year and still ended up going 11-2 and broke numerous Pac-12 records on offense in the process. Luckily for Utah fans, the game is being played at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The Utes will be smelling the roses! I believe Utah will go 11-3 on the season, beating Washington in the Pac-12 championship game and then losing a close game in the Rose Bowl. The loss to Washington State may not happen, however, I wouldn’t be surprised to see BYU or Arizona State knock off the Utes either. Following last year’s 9-4 performance, a trip to the Rose Bowl and a Top-20 ranking would undoubtedly be a successful season for the Utes.