Maybe I'm in the minority here in my thinking, but overall, I believe this schedule is actually not bad. It's arguably easier than last year's due to the fact the Utes get nearly every tough game at home.
Which is why I'm excited and have high expectations for this season.
With that said, I'm not going to suggest the schedule is a walk in the park. It isn't. The Utes also, as a whole, will face tougher competition than they did in 2009 - albeit barely. But like I said, the home games make this schedule far more tolerable than what we've experienced in years past (I'm thinking 2007 and 2009).
It also means we'll witness some great football at Rice-Eccles Stadium this year. In fact, I can't think of a recent season where the home schedule has been as good as it will be in 2010.
Hopefully the Utes take advantage of it.
So what will be the hardest and easiest game on the schedule? My rankings after the jump.
San Jose State
The Spartans were awful last year and probably won't be much better this season. They are an unknown due to the replaced coaching staff, but you've got to think they don't pose much of a threat for the Utes. Sure, they took Utah into the fourth quarter last year - but that was a very young Ute team playing on the road early in the season. This situation will be dramatically different, as Utah will be a bit more experienced and the game will be here in Salt Lake City. It also comes four weeks into the season, so an upset seems fairly unlikely.
Outside of 2007, these games have always gone to Utah and they're rarely ever close. Last season's contest down in Vegas fit that trend and I think this year's game will, as well. The Rebels, like the Spartans, are an unknown due to their coaching change. However, I don't expect that to dramatically change the program's face. If it does, I'm betting the transition from bottom-feeder to contender will take more than two weeks (these two meet in week two at RES).
@ New Mexico
I know there are a lot of Ute fans who still tremble at the thought of playing the Lobos due to the closeness of the games recently. However, I'm banking on those times being over - especially after the egg they laid last year. Not only did they manage to lose eleven games, they also were destroyed by Utah. Who, if you'll remember, was starting a freshman quarterback for the first time.
Are the Lobos good enough to wipe away a 45-14 disadvantage, even with the game being played on their home field? Not likely. The days of New Mexico giving Utah fits probably ended the second Rocky Long was forced out of there.
The Rams were terrible last year. I mean, down right painful to watch. It's hard to believe they started the season at 3-0 and then subsequently finished it 3-9. This a year after winning the New Mexico Bowl. I expect them to be marginally better, but with the game in Salt Lake, they stand no real chance.
@ San Diego State
The Aztecs weren't bad last year, but they did under perform solely because they lost two must-win games against poor Mountain West teams. With three games to go (one against Utah), the Aztecs sat at 4-5 and only needed to win two to become bowl eligible for the first time in a lifetime. That didn't happen, as San Diego State lost to Wyoming, at home, a week before losing to Utah. Their loss to the Utes ended any chance of bowl eligibility and prolonged the agony of the hundred or so Aztec faithful.
This game will be harder for Utah because it is on the road and I expect San Diego to steadily improve under Brady Hoke. But that improvement shouldn't be enough to push them past the Utes.
@ Iowa State
The Cyclones were fairly surprising last year, as they finished with a winning record and went to a bowl game. It's possible they're slowly climbing back to mediocrity. It's also possible it was just plain luck and they'll fall back to earth again this season. I expect them to finish somewhere in the middle of all that.
This is a game Utah should win, but it's also one they could lose if they're caught looking ahead. Of course, that shouldn't be a problem with Wyoming their opponent a week later.
What could be Utah's final trip to Laramie in a very long, long time. The Cowboys were improved last year and played the Utes tough in Salt Lake, so this is certainly not a gimmie. It wasn't that long ago a medicore Wyoming team whooped up on Utah in Laramie (2006). That game still makes me uneasy about trips up to the real world equivalent of Hoth. But the Utes certainly are a better team than 2006 and should have little excuse for not winning this one.
@ Air Force
I hate playing the Falcons. The games are never easy and they almost always come down to the final play. Each year I say I hope this year is different and it never is. So I suspect this game will, like every other recently, come down to a play or two in the fourth quarter. Hopefully the Utes are at their A-game, because this is certainly one that could be considered a loss.
Interestingly enough, though, the Utes have only lost once to the Falcons since 2003 (2007). So while the games are often almost always close, Utah wins nearly every single time.
This will be the most amped Holy War in the rivalry's history due to the Utes' move to the Pac-10. I expect a lot of emotion, especially after last year's hate-fest.
But this isn't last year's BYU team. They're rebuilding and while I expect them to be better at the end of the year than at the start, they're not nearly as scary as they've been the last three seasons.
With that said, it's still a rivalry game and you can never take anything for granted. It's at home, which is an added benefit, but the Cougars will be just as pumped as the Utes - so it's definitely a game that could go either way.
I'm super jazzed (ha) for this one. It's the perfect game to kick off the 2010 season. The Panthers are no slouch of a team and will prove to be a very formidable opponent for the Utes. Thankfully, though, it's at RES and Pitt has to travel nearly the length of the continental United States for this one.
It won't be easy, but a win could signal the Utes are, in fact, poised for something really, really good.
@ Notre Dame
Personally, the game I'm most looking forward to, as I grew up an Irish and Ute fan. But it's also a game that scares me because going on the road to an environment like South Bend is never easy. Add the fact no one knows what to expect out of Notre Dame and this could be a very difficult game for Utah to win.
The ultimate revenge game after the Frogs embarrassed Utah last year. But will revenge be enough to make up the 21-point gap we saw last season? I don't know. All I can say is that at least it's being played in Salt Lake. That makes me more optimistic. Unfortunately, I don't know how optimistic it should make me.
Overall, I see Utah winning at least ten regular season games. My guess is they finish 10-2 or 11-1.
But I'll be cheering for 12-0.