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Utah’s 2017 Schedule Could be Toughest Yet

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Foster Farms Bowl - Utah v Indiana Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The 2017 football schedule for the University of Utah football team was announced earlier today. At first inspection, looks like it could be the toughest conference schedule Utah will have to face since joining the Pac-12. The nonconference schedule features three winnable games. While Utah gets five home conference games, they face Stanford and Washington State instead of California and Oregon State. Teams like Arizona State, Oregon, and UCLA had down seasons in 2016, especially UCLA and Oregon. I would expect each of those teams to improve in 2017.

2017 Utah Football Schedule

Date Opponent Location
Date Opponent Location
Aug. 31 (Thur.) North Dakota Salt Lake City
Sept. 9 at Brigham Young Provo, Utah
Sept. 16 San Jose State Salt Lake City
Sept. 22 (Fri.) at Arizona* Tucson, Ariz.
Sept. 30 bye
Oct. 7 Stanford* Salt Lake City
Oct. 14 at USC* Los Angeles, Calif.
Oct. 21 Arizona State* Salt Lake City
Oct. 28 at Oregon* Eugene, Ore.
Nov. 3 (Fri.) UCLA* Salt Lake City
Nov. 11 Washington State* Salt Lake City
Nov. 18 at Washington* Seattle, Wash.
Nov. 25 Colorado* Salt Lake City
*Pac-12 game

The schedule starts off with three very winnable nonconference games. Utah gets FCS North Dakota at home to start the season on Thursday, Aug. 31. North Dakota is a quality FCS opponent, who finished ranked No. 11 in the final FCS poll, but Utah’s Pac-12 athletes are too much for the Fighting Hawks.

Next, Utah has a rivalry game at BYU. BYU will be in their second season under head coach Kalani Sitake, so I would expect them to be better versed in his system than when BYU came to Rice-Eccles Stadium in 2016. They will however lose key players on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Taysom Hill, running back Jamaal Williams, defensive end Harvey Langi, and safety Kai Nacua among others. Utah has won six in a row against BYU, and while I am sure the game in 2017 in Provo will be a hard-fought game, Utah certainly can win.

Utah wraps up the nonconference schedule with a home game against San Jose State. The Spartans have not been the same since Mike MacIntyre left for Colorado. San Jose State finished 2016 4-8 and failed to beat an FBS team with a winning record. 2012 was the last time SJSU finished a season above 0.500. This is a game Utah should win comfortably.

Utah then has to travel to Arizona on a short week to take on the Wildcats on Friday, Sep. 22. Utah has not won in Tucson, Ariz. since their first season in the Pac-12 in 2011 under former Arizona head coach Mike Stoops. Utah finally defeated current Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez for the first time last season. While the short week and road trip will make this game tougher, Arizona struggled mightily in 2016 finishing 3-9 and likely will not improve dramatically in 2017. This is a game that I think is very winnable for Utah.

After the game against Arizona, Utah will get their bye for the season. They could very likely come into the bye week 4-0 (and I would argue they need to be given the schedule to start the season). The difficulty ramps up mightily after the bye.

The first game after the bye week is a home date against Stanford. The Cardinal finished the 2016 season 10-3 and ranked No. 12. The Cardinal will likely be ranked to start the 2017 season. Stanford will be battled tested when they roll into Rice-Eccles Stadium, having already faced USC on the road, UCLA at home, and Arizona State at home. Stanford will be without their best player in 2016, running back Christian McCaffrey. Stud defensive end Solomon Thomas is also off to the NFL early. Quarterback Ryan Burns has transferred as well. Stanford has a ton of talent coming in in the 2017 recruiting class with multiple five-star players committed. Utah is 2-0 against Stanford since joining the Pac-12. The Utes match up well with Stanford because Utah has the size in the trenches to prevent Stanford from pushing them around like they do with most other teams. While this does not seem like a sure win for the Utes, this is a game that Utah certainly could win.

Utah then has to travel to Los Angeles, Calif. to face USC. The Trojans have lost multiple key players from 2016 early to the NFL including wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and cornerback Adoree Jackson, but USC will be loaded again in 2017. They will be led by Heisman candidate quarterback Sam Darnold. Darnold led USC to nine straight wins to close out the 2016 season. He only lost one game as a starter in 2016, his first career start at Utah. Utah has not won at USC since before the United States entered World War I (they won in L.A. in 1916 27-12). USC faces Oregon State the week before and Notre Dame the week after facing Utah. USC loses a lot up front on both lines and could be looking ahead to the rivalry game against Notre Dame, which bodes well for Utah, but I just do not see Utah knocking off a USC team in Los Angeles that will likely start the season in the top 5.

Utah gets ASU at home next. The Sun Devils will be coming off a game against Washington. The Utes have beaten the Sun Devils in the last two seasons. ASU struggled last season with a historically bad defense. I expect Arizona State head coach Todd Graham, who is a defensive coach, to get the defense playing better in 2017. ASU could have a new starting quarterback in former Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett. ASU also will have talent at running back (Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard) and wide receiver (N’Keal Harry). This game very well could be a shoot out in Salt Lake. I do think ASU will be better next year, but how much better is the question? This is a game that I think Utah has a good chance to win at home, but it is far from a gimme.

Utah then travels to Eugene, Ore. to face Oregon, the team that destroyed Utah’s Pac-12 South Championship hopes in Rice-Eccles Stadium last season. Can the Utes get revenge in 2017? Will they be able to pile on 62 points in Autzen Stadium like they did in 2015? Oregon is a team that I think will be vastly improved from their 4-8 season in 2016. The Ducks will be under new leadership with former South Florida head coach Willie Taggart taking over. They also poached Colorado defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt. Oregon gets running back Royce Freeman back for his senior season as well. Leavitt should improve the defensive in 2016, and Oregon will have consistency at quarterback with Justin Herbert back for his sophomore season. The Utah game is bookended by trips to UCLA and Washington for the Ducks, so that bodes well for the Utes. It is hard to know what Oregon will look like in 2017 with the wholesale changes made to the coaching staff. There is no question the Ducks have talent and can beat Utah. Taggart is a great coach as well and should have the Ducks motivated to play in 2017. While this game is a question mark right now, I am leaning towards a Utah loss in this contest.

A Pac-12 South foe in UCLA will come to Rice-Eccles Stadium in the ninth game of the year for the Utes. This will be the second Friday night game of the season for Utah. I am not sure if the short week helps or hurts Utah. UCLA will be coming off a physical game at Washington. This game is a must win for Utah. The last time UCLA played at Rice-Eccles, Josh Rosen and the UCLA defense led the Bruins to a win, eliminating Utah from playing in the Pac-12 Championship game. UCLA did not live up to preseason hype in 2016, but they will likely be better in 2017. After not being able to run the football in 2016, UCLA shook up the offensive coaching staff for 2017. UCLA also dealt with injuries to key players like Rosen in 2016. Utah and UCLA played in a shoot out in 2016 in the Rose Bowl. Utah won thanks to a monster game from former running back Joe Williams. I would be shocked if the game in Salt Lake in 2017 was as high scoring as the 52-45 game last year. This game is a toss up for me right now, especially until we learn a bit more about UCLA’s offense in 2017.

Utah gets their only back-to-back home games of the 2017 season when Washington State comes to Rice-Eccles Stadium the week after Utah hosts UCLA. The Cougars, of the Washington State variety, have been a thorn in Utah’s side since Mike Leach took over. Utah knocked off Leach’s Cougars in 2012, his first year at WSU but have not beaten them in the two games since. WSU gets Utah native Luke Falk back at quarterback for his senior season. Falk will be missing some of his favorite targets in 2017, but I expect Leach to plug guys into his system. WSU, with their air raid offense, will present problems to a Utah defense replacing four starters from 2016. Until Utah proves they can play well against air raid offenses, I do not like Utah’s chances here.

Utah’s final road contest is in Seattle, Wash. at Washington. The two teams met in Salt Lake City last season with ESPN College Gameday in town. The Huskies won the Pac-12 in 2016 and played in the College Football Playoff. The Huskies lose multiple key players from 2016, but do not expect a big drop off. Washington has a bevy of talented underclassmen ready to step up. The Huskies also return reigning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year quarterback Jake Browning. UW should feature a nasty defense and a potent offense again in 2017. This game in Seattle is one of Utah’s toughest in 2017 and is a likely loss.

Utah closes out the 2017 regular season with a home date against Colorado. Colorado will be coming off a bye, so they will be rested. Colorado, the reigning Pac-12 South Champions, were a senior-laden team in 2016 and have to replace most of their defense with a new defensive coordinator. Colorado does return a lot on offense, so this game could be high scoring.

Utah's 2017 schedule looks so tough on paper for three reasons: tough opponents, early bye, and back loaded schedule. Utah essentially has to play eight of the nine toughest teams in the Pac-12 in 2017. They have a bye in week five, which is earlier in the season than the Utes would probably like. After the bye, the schedule features eight straight games against teams that will very likely make a bowl game. Last season, Utah's tough games were a little more spread out rather than one right after another. There are a few positives with this schedule though. Utah will likely be breaking in a ton of new starters, especially in the secondary and on the offensive line. The Utes will also have a new offense with new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor. With Utah's arguably easiest games to start the season, Utah will have several games to perfect the new offense and help the new starters get comfortable before they have to face Utah's toughest opponents. Utah also closes out 2017 with three out of their final four games at home.

What are your thoughts on Utah’s 2017 football schedule? How many games do you think the Utes win? Sound off in the comments.