The season is still pretty far out, but that shouldn't stop us from looking a bit deeper at Utah's 2009 schedule.
As I mentioned last week, I thought the schedule broke down pretty favorably for the Utes and now I'm going to explain why.
When looking at this schedule, like I've done the past three years, I think it's best to break it down by Sure Win, Probable Win, Toss-up and Should Lose. There does not appear to be any sure losses on this year's schedule.
Utah State: Until the Aggies prove they can play with the Utes, I think this game will always be a sure-win. Obviously there is some intrigue here, since former Utah defensive coordinator Gary Andersen is now the head man in Logan, but the roster is the same and since this game is being played in Salt Lake, I find it hard to think of this conest as anything but a Utah victory.
SDSU: New coach, new system and a new outlook, but there shouldn't be much expected from the Aztecs this year. If there is some hope, it's that they do return a good amount of talent on both sides of the ball. Unfortunately, that talent struggled greatly last year. With this game being played at Utah, there is no excuse for losing it -- unless somehow Brady Hoke turns the Aztecs around faster than most expect.
@ San Jose State: I don't know much about the Spartans right now, but what I do know doesn't really strike fear into my heart. Sure, this isn't a game the Utes can overlook, but I think everyone expects to leave the Bay Area with a victory come September.
Louisville: Hard to imagine Louisville being placed on a probable wins list, since only two years ago they were coming off the best season in school history. However, the Cardinals have fallen on some hard times under third year head coach Steve Kragthorpe and will have to replace some key players on defense, all the while throwing in a new quarterback under center.
@ Colorado State: The Rams proved to be no contest for the Utes last season and now enter 2009 trying to find a replacement for star running back Gartrell Johnson and quarterback Billy Farris. The skills positions will be a huge question mark for Colorado State throughout spring and fall ball and with Utah playing this game early in the season, possibly before the Rams are completely jelling, it should lead to a victory.
@ UNLV: Ok, the Utes will be making their first visit to Las Vegas since 2007's embarrassing loss. Have they learned their lesson? Well with Frank Summers gone, who Utah had a helluva time stopping the past two years, we can only hope.
Wyoming: Like with SDSU and New Mexico, Wyoming is going to be an unknown entering this season. The Cowboys have a new coaching staff, but how much of that can help them overcome some of their issues, especially on offense? Dave Christensen might have developed one of the most prolific offenses in the nation at Missouri, but he's a long way from Columbia now.
New Mexico: Read above and you get the idea with New Mexico. The Lobos have traditionally been a very difficult opponent for Utah, but how much of that was Rocky Long and not the program itself? We'll find out this season, but with the game being played up here, I've got to think this is a probable victory for Utah. Especially since they've got to find a backfield now that Rodney Ferguson and Paul Baker have left.
Air Force: I hate putting the Falcons up as a probable win, because my brain tells me they're anything but, however, I can't justify putting their game as a toss-up, either. It isn't a toss-up. The Utes should win this one, especially since it's being played here. With that said, this is likely the most challenging of the probable victories, since the Falcons do return quarterback Tim Jefferson and running back Asher Clark.
@ BYU: As this rivalry has proven, Utah does better as the underdog than the Cougars, which was the case in 2006 and 2007 -- games where Utah came within a stop of winning. Last season, though, the Utes dominated, even though BYU had entered the game with only one-loss. What does that mean for this year? Well, it's very likely the Utes enter their game against the Cougars down in Provo as underdogs and as the last three times that has happened, I expect a very close game that could go either way. This favors Utah, because, as we saw in 2005, they're very capable of pulling out a toss-up.
@ TCU: While Utah has won three in a row over TCU, those games have been extremely close. Last year's classic has certainly haunted the Frogs and I expect them to use that as motivation for their game against the Utes this season, but hopefully the fact this game is played later in the year -- offering Utah a chance to come together as a team -- benefits the Utes and they can pull out a victory. With that said, this is a game that, like with BYU, can go either way this season.
@ Oregon: I wanted to put this as a likely loss, but I did the same last year with the Michigan game and we know how that turned out. The one thing I feel good about with this game is the fact the Utes will have two games under their belt before venturing into the tough Autzen Stadium. I don't know if it'll mean victory, but it's better than starting the season there with so many unknowns on offense.
Looking at the schedule, it appears the Utes are in good shape. If they can take care of business at home, it's very likely this team is sitting at no worse than 9-3 when the regular season is over. Even if Utah were to lose all the toss-up games, I think 9-3, 10-3 with a bowl victory, would mark a very impressive rebuilding season for Kyle Whittingham and his staff. The fact they could increase that win total if they were to knock off TCU or BYU or Oregon also leaves the possibility for something special again this year (though unlikely anything remotely close to what we saw in 2008).
The worst I see Utah doing with this schedule is 8-4 and even that is acceptable.