In the first part of a three part series, we will rank Utah’s opponents from least to most difficult. We begin with the likely wins. Nothing is ever a sure thing in college football. Michigan lost to Appalachian State, Nick Saban lost to Louisiana-Monroe at Alabama, upsets happen. But, before the season starts, there are certainly games that look like likely wins at least on paper. For the Utah Utes in 2018, there are four games that look like likely wins.
12. Weber State Wildcats
Our new writer AJ Woods has done a nice job previewing the Weber State offense and defense. While Weber is an FCS program, they are far from a cupcake. They finished ranked in the top 5 in the FCS last season. Former Utah assistant Jay Hill has done a remarkable job with that program. Any fans dreaming of another 70-7 beatdown need to think again. Kyle Whittingham also likely has too much respect for Hill to run up the score like that. My guess is this game is a little closer than people expect in the first half, and Utah pulls away in the second half with their superior talent and depth.
11. at Northern Illinois Huskies
I really wanted to put this as Utah’s toughest nonconference game. It is a long road trip, and NIU has some very good players. I just could not quite do it for reasons detailed below. Pass rusher Sutton Smith will be playing on Sundays. He had the highest grade for an edge player from Pro Football Focus (95.4) last year in four years. Senior left tackle Jackson Barton has been receiving high praise this offseason, and we will learn quickly how good Barton will be when he faces Smith. NIU brings back dual threat quarterback Marcus Childers, their top wide receiver Spencer Tears, and a veteran offensive line. This game will be tougher than Utah fans might expect.
10. BYU Cougars
This was a hard one for me to rank. On the one hand, part of me wanted to put the Cougars 12th, not out of spite, but because they were a really bad football team last year, and I did not see them make great strides in the personnel department in the offseason. Look at some of their performances last year. Portland State did not win a game as an FCS team. BYU only managed to beat them 20-6 at home. Do you know what Weber State did to them? They beat them 63-17 on the road. Weber State would have beaten BYU last year. But, there are two reasons I did not put BYU 12th: one it is 2018 and not 2017, BYU should be better this year, I do think they improved their coaching staff enough to be a better team in 2018, two this is still Utah’s most heated rivalry game, and it seems like it makes Utah make stupid mistakes, and it makes BYU play their best game of the year. If you remove the rivalry aspect, I would probably put BYU 11th, but because it is a rivalry game that is always closer than it should be, BYU got a small bump. We will find out who is better between BYU and NIU when they face each other in Provo at the end of October.
9. at Colorado Buffaloes
Utah misses both the California Golden Bears and the Oregon State Beavers, the two teams that finished at the bottom of the Pac-12 North last season. Colorado finished last in the South last year, one year removed from winning the division. Colorado brings back quarterback Steven Montez, and they have stability on their coaching staff, something that cannot be said for most teams in the South. Colorado returns only 10 starters though, which puts them at No. 115 in the nation, tied with the Washington State Cougars. It seems unlikely that Colorado can turn things around with so much turnover to their roster.