When you sit down and actually look at Utah's schedule, you realize just how f'd they really are. Because no matter how good this team is, the odds of it actually showing in their final record is slim. Let's be realistic here, the Utes aren't going undefeated and winning 10 or more games will prove to be extremely difficult. So tough in fact, that I believe we have a better chance of BYU doing something that isn't homoerotic (not that there is anything wrong with that) over the summer than the Utes have of hitting the double digit win total this season.
So how many wins can we expect from Utah? Who knows, but I think we can get an idea by breaking down the schedule into Should Win, Toss-ups and Should Lose. It's a rather simple formula that I think ultimately gives us an indication of what the expectations should be for this year. The season will be a success if Utah can win every game that's a Should Win and splitting the Toss-ups games. It'd also be nice if they could pull a stunner and win one of those games they really aren't favored at all to win.
The list will be rather simple, I'll rank each team by the level of difficulty in each category. That means from easiest to hardest. This will be done so that one isn't confused about why USU is ranked along side, say New Mexico, even though they're in the same category. Obviously New Mexico will be a tougher opponent than Utah State, but that doesn't mean Utah shouldn't beat the Lobos. Simple enough? Good. Then let's get this thing started...
- USU - The Aggies are terrible and have been terrible for quite sometime. Utah has not lost to USU in 10 years and I don't see that changing this season. If, by some freak chance the Utes do lose, I say we fold up shop, cancel the football program and pump all that money into basketball.
- @ UNLV - If you think Utah's dominance over USU is impressive, look at what they've done to the Rebels. The way Utah has sodomized UNLV over the years probably makes them felons in 25 states. The Utes haven't lost to UNLV in 28 years (the first meeting) and have won 11 straight since. That's an 11-1 record and they better run it to 12-1, or I'd probably be in support of storming Rice-Eccles and somehow overturning that massive press box.
- SDSU - The Aztecs are coming off a 9-loss season, with one of those losses being a 38-7 embarrassment to the Utes. Second year head coach Chuck Long will be looking to turn things around, but will have an uphill battle and I don't see San Diego State pulling out a victory in Salt Lake. Maybe if they had Tom Craft as coach, but Long seems to be way in over his head, even more so than Craft, whose ability to lose with topnotch talent was in a class of its own.
- Air Force - The Falcons are the biggest unknown of any Mountain West team, because no one knows how good they will be under new head coach Troy Calhoun. Since he's dropping the wishbone and adopting a traditional Big 12-style offense, the Falcons might surprise some people. Or they might flop even worse than they were under DeBerry last year. Even so, this is an early game (2nd of the season) and I expect the Falcons to continue working out the kinks in their offense, which should ultimately benefit Utah.
- Wyoming - The Cowboys are always tough, but they haven't faired well in Salt Lake City. The last time they were here, in 2005, the Utes gave them their worst loss of the season and though I don't expect such a dominate effort this year, I do expect a victory. Utah has too much talent and too much history on its side to lose to Wyoming at home. And if they aren't pissed about last year's whacking in Laramie, they have zero heart.
- @ CSU - Ok, so Utah doesn't play all that great in Fort Collins, only winning once since 1995. But this is the Rams, and they just aren't good anymore. Which has got to be difficult for their fans, since they were once the best team in the conference just a few short years ago. So while it should be tough and Utah will need to buck recent history, this should be a win for Utah. Though I wouldn't be surprised if they found a way to lose this game.
- New Mexico - I don't know what the University of Utah did to Rocky Long, but he sure has it in for the Utes. The Lobos have won 3 of 4 and the past two contests have seen Utah's leads evaporate and their final, possible game winning drive fall to the ground like a fiery plane crash. Utah better win this game, because if they don't, the Lobos can officially deem the Utes their bitch.
That's 7 games the Utes should win and anything less will likely be seen as a devastating season. Oh 6-6 wouldn't be the end of the world, but it could come close, since the above 7-games all should go Utah's way. Losing one of these games, or god forbid two, could mean heads might roll. But if the Utes win them all and then get a game or two in the toss-up category, they could be sitting pretty.
- @ BYU - The Cougars will be tough, but Utah has done well down in Provo (only losing once since 1993). I don't expect that to change and this game is one Utah should always win. But I know reality and reality tells me something different and BYU won't be an easy opponent. This could go either way and as of right now I give a slight edge to BYU. Now someone douse me in gasoline and light me on fire...I feel dirty.
- @ OSU - The Beavers will be breaking in a new quarterback, but they can't be underestimated. It'll be the first game of the season in a hostile environment and you better believe Oregon State will be pumped. This will be a very difficult game for Utah and they will need to play nearly flawlessly if they're going to win, because any errors, no matter how slight, could derail their confidence early. And we all remember the UCLA game, where a lack of confidence doomed Utah in the second half.
Wee, water sports!
- UCLA - The Bruins manhandled Utah in the second half of last year's season opener and while I expect a much better game since it's being played in Salt Lake, it'll be very tough. UCLA is a possible top-10 team and if they play up to their talent (where does this sound familiar?), they won't be beat here, or there or anywhere (except maybe by USC). I'd like to think Utah can win this game, but they won't be favored and therefore I see this as a should lose.
- @ TCU - I wavered back and forth between putting TCU here or in the toss-up category, but decided this was the best fit. Going to Fort Worth and beating a TCU team that's probably pissed off at last season's meltdown against Utah, might be asking for too much. I hate the idea of losing to them, but they clearly are the class of the league and until Utah can prove they can beat elite teams on the road, I'll expect the worst.
- @ Louisville - Probably the toughest game on the schedule, as the Cardinals could win the Big East and play in yet another BCS Bowl game. The big question though will be whether Steve Kragthorpe can keep building on what Bob Petrino started, and that won't be easy. After watching his offense putter against the Utes when he was coaching Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl, I do question if he's a good enough coach to live up to the expectations set by Cardinals fans. But with the talent they have and the fact Brian Brohm is returning, they should be easily favored against Utah at home.