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Way Too Early Ranking of the 2018 Utah Football Schedule

NCAA Football: Utah at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

The 2017 football season might not be over for the Utah Utes, but that will not stop us from taking a way too early look at the 2018 football schedule that was released last week. We do not know which players will leave early and how recruiting will shake out, but we do have at least some idea on how good teams will be next year. This is a topic we will likely revisit in the summer before the 2018 season starts.

Here is a recap of the schedule:

2018 Utah Utes Football Schedule

Date Opponent Site
Date Opponent Site
Aug. 30 (Thur.) Weber State Salt Lake City
Sept. 8 at Northern Illinois DeKalb, Ill.
Sept. 15 Washington* Salt Lake City
Sept. 22 bye
Sept. 29 at Washington State* Pullman, Wash.
Oct. 6         at Stanford* Stanford, Calif. 
Oct. 12 (Fri.) Arizona* Salt Lake City
Oct. 20 (hc) USC* Salt Lake City
Oct. 26 (Fri.) at UCLA* Los Angeles, Calif.
Nov. 3 at Arizona State* Tempe, Ariz.
Nov. 10 Oregon* Salt Lake City
Nov. 17 at Colorado* Boulder, Colo.
Nov. 24 Bringham Young Salt Lake City
*Pac-12 game; hc-Homecoming

12. Weber State Wildcats

This is an FCS opponent. The last time they played, Utah won 70-7. This game is definitely the easiest game of the 2018 season.

11. at Northern Illinois Huskies

One of two games the Utes will have against the Huskies in back-to-back weeks. This will be the far easier matchup. NIU is sitting at 4-7 this year. The Huskies won the Mid-American Conference West Division every season from 2010 to 2015, but they are going to miss a bowl they are going to miss a bowl game for the second-straight year after going 5-7 last year. This is a long road trip, but NIU has a serious talent deficiency compared to the Utes. This also is not a rivalry game.

10. BYU Cougars

This is a rivalry game, so that always adds some difficulty to this game. Utah has won seven in a row, and they get this game at home. BYU has struggled mightily in 2017, currently sitting at 3-9 with a game at Hawaii remaining. I expect BYU will be better in 2018, but they are unlikely to improve enough to be a tougher opponent at Rice-Eccles Stadium than any of the Pac-12 teams Utah plays (since the Utes do not play Oregon State or Cal).

9. at Colorado Buffaloes

It was hard to pick the weakest Pac-12 opponent with Utah not squaring off against Oregon State (and Cal) in 2018. The Pac-12 could be loaded next season. The Buffaloes might finish last in the Pac-12 South in 2017, and they will lose most of their offensive skill players next season. The Colorado defense is young this year and will likely improve next year, but they will likely lose eight starters from their offense.

8. at Arizona State Sun Devils

Utah struggles against the Arizona schools, and Utah got beaten handily by Arizona State in 2017. ASU might also bring back a lot of players (barring players leaving early), so this game has the potential to be a lot tougher, but right now, this game looks like one of the more winnable Pac-12 games. Playing at ASU in November is the best time of the year to play at the Sun Devils because it is nice weather and not 100+ degrees. Utah won 49-26 the last time they played there in November of 2016. The Sun Devils will also lose a lot up front after this season, so a more seasoned Utah offense could present problems for ASU.

7. at UCLA Bruins

Why UCLA, a team Utah beat handily in 2017 over ASU, a team that will have a new coach in 2017? Well, UCLA recruits better than ASU, and if they hit a home run with a coaching hire, the roster is there to make a quick turnaround. This game is also a Friday night Pac-12 road game, which are tough to win. It also follows one of Utah’s toughest games of the year (USC at home). With the game the week before and having to prepare on a short week, we will give UCLA the edge over the Sun Devils for right now.

6. Oregon Ducks

The Ducks have bounced back to 6-5 this year after missing a bowl game last year. Getting Oregon in Salt Lake City as the last home Pac-12 game for the Utes may bring up flashbacks of the 2016 game, but this looks like the easiest home game next year, mostly because the home slate next year is stacked. Oregon will lose running backs Royce Freeman and Kani Benoit along with left tackle Tyrell Crosby and wide receiver Charles Nelson on offense. The Ducks have recruited really well so far in the 2018 recruiting class. One of the other reasons for the Ducks being the weakest home opponent is that head coach Willie Taggart is a hot coaching name, and there are rumors he may leave Oregon after one year. This could hurt their recruiting class if he leaves for a job like Florida. Oregon could end up being really good next year if they close their recruiting class strong and do not lose Taggart.

5. Arizona Wildcats

Arizona was projected to be the worst team in the Pac-12 South this season, then Khalil Tate happened. The dynamic quarterback will be back for the Wildcats next season. The young defense will graduate only two starters. This is a team that has played a ton of true freshmen, so while they were good in 2017, they could be much better next year and will certainly be in the conversation to be the favorites in the South next season. With all that said, why only the fifth hardest? Well, this is a Friday night Pac-12 road game for the Wildcats, which is a tough prospect to win. I am also not totally sold on Rich Rodriguez as a coach since he has been up and down in his tenure at Arizona.

4. at Washington State Cougars

The Cougars will lose three offensive linemen, including Cody O’Connell, and quarterback Luke Falk, but Pullman is a tough place to win. WSU will figure to be one of the teams that could be picked to win the Pac-12 North in 2018. The game will follow a road game at USC for the Cougars, while Utah will be coming off a bye, which will help Utah in their quest to beat Utah for the first time since 2012. Defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa was a problem for Utah in the game this year. He is a junior this season, so he could be back next year if he does not leave for the NFL.

3. at Stanford Cardinal

This game will be the second-straight road game for Utah (following the WSU game), while the WSU game follows a bye week. Stanford has recruited well the last few years. If Bryce Love comes back, he is a junior, the Cardinal might be the favorite to win the North next year. The reasons this game is third and not first are because I believe Love heads to the NFL, and Utah matches up well against Stanford’s pro-style offense.

2. USC Trojans

UW and USC are the two obvious choices for toughest games. Both games are in Salt Lake City in 2018, which makes both seem more winnable than they were in 2017. Utah has beaten USC at Rice-Eccles Stadium in each of the last two meetings. It seems likely that USC will lose more players early to the NFL than the Huskies. USC will be loaded if players like Sam Darnold, Ronald Jones II, Deontay Burnett, Rasheem Green, Cameron Smith, and Iman Marshall come back. USC always recruits well, but this team could be lacking in experience if most of those guys head to the NFL. USC will certainly be good next year but just how good is a bit uncertain because of the possibility of losing so many key players to the NFL.

1. Washington Huskies

The Huskies will be coming off their easiest game of the season (home game against North Dakota), so they will be well-rested for this early season game. The Huskies have had the best defense is the Pac-12 this season despite losing three defensive backs and four defenders overall to the NFL from last year. The young secondary will be a year older and more experienced in 2018. UW will likely also bring back a lot on the offensive line since left tackle Trey Adams is unlikely to head to the NFL following his season-ending injury. If running back Myles Gaskin comes back, the UW offense could be quite potent next year paired with a defense that will likely lead the Pac-12 again.

This schedule certainly does not look easy, which is just life in the Pac-12. The bye after the Washington game and before the two hardest road games of the year is not bad, but it is a bit early in the season. The biggest positive is that most of the toughest games are at home, while the potentially weakest opponents are mostly on the road. Four of the six toughest games are at home, including the two toughest games. Utah was a young team in 2017, but those young players will be more seasoned in 2018. The schedule is front loaded. Utah will have played three of their four hardest games in the Pac-12 in their first three conference games of the season. For a program that has a history of starting fast then struggling in November, this schedule is ideal. The toughest November game is likely the home date against Oregon. Utah also only has three conference games in November because they end the season against BYU.