According to ESPN College Football Live, Utah has the toughest schedule in the nation. Think about that, folks. Not one of the toughest. Not one of the toughest in the Pac-12, THE toughest schedule in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision.
Schools with the toughest strength of schedule this season, according to @ESPNInsider Brian Fremeau #CFBLIVE " pic.twitter.com/r7pzw7yfOj— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) July 24, 2014
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham might wish this season's schedule were a little lighter, but his team will have to play the cards they were dealt. The Pac-12 did the Utes no favors with a trip to Palo Alto and a visit from conference favorite Oregon in addition to the already loaded South division slate.
At the beginning of the season, Utah will ease into their schedule with two home dates against Idaho State (Aug. 28) and Fresno State (Sept. 6), as well as winnable games against Michigan (in Ann Arbor on Sept. 20) and Washington State (in Rice-Eccles on Sept. 27). But three of the first four games are against 2013 bowl teams (even while all three lost their bowl games), something Utah hasn't managed in the last two seasons in the Pac-12.
After the first four, things ramp up very quickly. Utah heads to Los Angeles Oct. 4 to take on Pac-12 South foe UCLA, a team picked to win the division, in the hallowed Rose Bowl. On Oct. 16, a Thursday night game, Utah will be in the Pacific Northwest to take on the Oregon Beavers in Reser Stadium. Both teams handled Utah at home, despite very close games.
Next, Utah welcomes the Trojans of USC, a team Utah has failed to beat since joining the Pac-12, back to Salt Lake City on Oct. 25. The Utes follow up with their first 2014 trip to the dessert for a clash with another team they've yet to beat in the Pac-12, Arizona State.
The next two for Utah are home and home against the top teams in the North division of the Pac-12. First, the Utes welcome Oregon to Rice-Eccles Stadium on Nov. 8 for the first time since the 2003 season. The following week, Utah makes their first trip to Palo Alto to take on Stanford since the 1996 season. Utah beat Stanford in their old stadium 17-10, and so has a winning streak of sorts going. (In fact, Utah has beaten Stanford three of the last four games, including the last two in Palo Alto.)
Utah closes out the regular season with a visit from Rich Rod and his Arizona Wildcats on Nov. 22, followed by a trip to the other side of the Rockies for the annual clash with Colorado on Nov. 29. Both are winnable games, but the Utes have struggled against Rich Rod's 'Cats, and their last trip to Boulder had to be saved by a miraculous 100-yard kickoff return by NCAA record holder Reggie Dunn. In the Pac-12, even the winnable games aren't gimmes, so Utah will need to play well to close out the conference season strong with, hopefully, momentum into a bowl game.