Since it appears we won't know anything about the coaching search for at least a week, I thought I'd take a look at the upcoming football season.
It's always exciting predicting the season, because so many of us actually have high hopes. Every team is undefeated and every team has a chance for that special season. Now obviously some teams are far better suited than others in terms of a dominate season, but for at least a few months we can dream.
I went into the past two seasons with very high expectations and thought Utah would make some national noise. I was wrong, as the Utes went 7-5 and 8-5 in Kyle Whittingham's first two years. So this season I've cooled on the thoughts of a dominate regular season and expect something more realistic. This does not mean I've given up on the Utes, but they are playing their toughest out of conference schedule in years and I do expect some losses. Of course I also expect Utah to contend for the conference championship and anything less would be a disappointment. But will it happen? Hard to say, as TCU looks like the favorite to win the conference this year and Utah has to play them on the road.
With all that said, I'll rank games by my feelings as to whether they're sure wins, most likely wins, toss-ups, most likely losses and sure losses.
It'll be interesting to see how close I come and maybe after the season is over I'll look back at these predictions. So, here we go.
Only two sure wins in my mind and these are two teams the Utes have dominated for decades. Both USU and UNLV have third year head coaches and both have shown little signs of improvement. Mike Sanford, Utah's former OC during their great run in 2003 and 2004, has flopped at UNLV and is definitely on the hotseat. Up in Logan, Brent Guy has struggled rebuilding an Aggie team that hasn't been competitive since John L. Smith bolted for Louisville in the 1990s. I would be shocked if Utah lost either of these games and if they did, well then it could be a rocky season. That should give Utah at least 2-wins.
Most likely wins:
San Diego State
Utah went 2-2 against these teams last year, defeating Air Force and San Diego State, but losing to New Mexico and Wyoming. The Wyoming game was a blowout and the Utes blew a double digit lead against the Lobos. Though New Mexico has won 2 straight against the Utes, I just don't see them winning 3 straight, especially four straight in Salt Lake City (the Lobos defeated the Utes at Utah in '03 as well). Air Force hasn't defeated Utah since the 2002 season and San Diego State looks to be in disarray in Chuck Long's second season. Wyoming, who soundly defeated Utah last year in Laramie, has to come up to Salt Lake. If this game were at Wyoming, I would feel pretty confident that the Cowboys would win, but it isn't and I think the Utes get them in Salt Lake. That gives Utah 6-wins, one win away from a guaranteed bowl game.
@ Oregon State
These games can go either way and I'm guessing Utah won't win them all. Oregon State will be tough, since it's the first game of the season and on the road. The Beavers are the darkhorse candidate for a strong run this season after their strong finish last year. UCLA, the other Pacific Ten foe Utah will be facing this season, beat Utah rather easily last year, but this time has to play the Utes in Salt Lake. A few in the media have the Bruins as a top-10 team, however Coach Karl Dorrell has struggled in games against "lesser" opponents. Colorado State might not be that improved, but with the game being played in Fort Collins, it evens the playing field. As for BYU, well they're Utah's rival and even though I feel Utah will win (I always do, and hey, they've won 4 of 5), it will be a tight game. I'll say Utah splits these games, beating CSU and BYU. That would put their win total at 8.
Most likely losses
Both these games are against great teams and on the road. I fully believe Utah is capable of winning, but I wouldn't bet on it. I think Louisville and the Frogs will have great seasons and should be favored against the Utes. With that said, I would love if the Utes split these two games, especially if they beat TCU for the conference championship. That's unlikely and so I will expect Utah to lose both these games. That keeps Utah's win total at 8, with 4 losses. But they would finish with only one loss in conference play and a possible tie for the Mountain West Conference Championship.
I think an 8-4 record is reasonable and would definitely have me optimistic about this coaching staff. Anything better would be far and away great, especially if the Utes can get a couple wins over top-25 teams.
This season will be a success IF the Utes win every game they should and get a few of those toss-ups as well. If their only losses are to UCLA, TCU, Oregon State and Louisville, I will be very pleased.
How do you see this season turning out?