This time around, we look at the maybes, the toss-ups, the could-go-either-way games. If Utah plays well or catches a break or two, the opponents below could go down. If Utah plays sloppy (or the opponent plays inspired) and turns the ball over like much of last season, Utah could notch another in the L column.
To sum up the next paragraph in a few simple words, Michigan is one of the most disappointing teams in college football. Year in and year out, the Wolverines rake in a strong recruiting class, only to underperform come the season. The starting quarterback battle is unlikely to be settled before the first or second game of the season. Furthermore, the Wolverines lost leading receiver Jeremy Gallon (80 catches for 1284 yards) to the National Football League, which will greatly benefit the Utes secondary and pass rush come the third game of the season. On defense, the Wolverines tend to be hit-or-miss, allowing 14 points one game and then over 40 in the next two. If this game were played at home, I'd give it to the Utes without a second thought. However, the Wolverines were 5-2 at the Big House in 2013, adding enough murkiness to the crystal ball that we're not sure how to call this game.
Prediction Utah 27, Michigan 24
7. Washington State:
Easy folks, put away the pitchforks. Every football article needs a hail mary of sorts, and here's the one fired from my tiny arms. When it comes to teams that can spread the ball around and rack up the passing touchdowns, Washington State can keep up with the best of them. The only thing holding back senior QB Connor Halliday is his tendency to throw picks (34 touchdowns to 22 interceptions in 2013). Pair that with the fact that Halliday was able to throw for over 4,500 yards in 2013 without a single receiver racking up more than 800 individually (Gabe Marks led all receivers with 770), and you have an offense that you can't beat by simply shutting down their top pass-catcher. That being said, their passing prowess is matched only by their rushing and defensive struggles, allowing a horrendous 32.5 points per game. Utah should win this game at Rice-Eccles Stadium, but Washington State definitely has the firepower to make this a shootout.
Prediction: Utah 45, Washington State 38
6. Oregon State:
Losing wide receiver Brandon Cooks and all the prowess that the reigning Biletnikof winner brought to the field (128 catches for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns) will be a tough accomplishment for the Beavers. That being said, they get a pretty nice consolation prize with the return of quarterback Sean Mannion for his senior season, as well as the next six leading receivers for the Beavers. Despite the loss of Cooks, there are plenty of pieces remaining to keep the nation's 4th-ranked passing offense (372.6 ypg) running smoothly. As we saw in last year's overtime thriller, the Beavers are a bit lacking on defense and will be hurting even more this year with the departure of Scott Chrichton to the Minnesota Vikings (which has both the Minnesotan and the Utes fan in me grinning like a madman). I see another shootout coming if Tevin Carter and the Utes secondary don't bring their A-game, as even a small slip up could mean a big night for the Beaver's.
Prediction: Utah 41, Oregon State 35
5. Arizona State:
You might start thinking I'm a fan of shootouts after this prediction, but here is another team that will be made to put up points this year while struggling to keep some teams from scoring them. With the loss of both defensive tackle Will Sutton and linebacker Carl Bradford, the Sun Devils lose two important pieces of their pass rushing arsenal. Even worse was that Bradford was also one of their stalwart leaders on defense, a man who could be counted on to stuff the run or come up with a big play when needed. That being said, the presence of quarterback Taylor Kelley, running back DJ Foster, and receiver Jaelen Strong gives this Sun Devil offense a strong arsenal with which to put up points and compete with the best of teams.
Prediction: ASU 38, Utah 28
Feel free to shout out your rankings and predictions and let the debates begin. Just be sure to hang onto those predictions come game time for the glorious prize of bragging rights and (if you're a better bargainer then I am) some free meals at your friend's expense.