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Ranking Utah’s Opponents: The Toss Ups

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NCAA Football: UCLA at Utah Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday we took a look at the likely wins for the Utah Utes in 2018. Now, let’s continue with part two ranking Utah’s opponents and look at the toss up games. These are the games that really could define the season. I will be honest, I do not see 10+ regular season wins for Utah this year, so the results of these games will be what determines if Utah wins 6-7 or 8-9. I think Utah is a better team that most/all of the opponents on this list, but for reasons I will detail in each write up, I could still see them losing the game.

8. at Washington State Cougars

Utah’s first road conference game, the Utes will look to get a win in Pullman, Wash. for the first time since 2011 (prior to Mike Leach coaching the Cougars). Remember John White IV tiptoeing down the snowy sideline for the touchdown? What a fun game that was. WSU returns just 10 starters and needs to find a new starting quarterback. WSU, along with Colorado, return the fewest starters in the Pac-12. The WSU D might also take a step back now that defensive coordinator Alex Grinch left for the Ohio State Buckeyes, and all world defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa left for the NFL. I was hesitant to call this a likely win because WSU is a matchup problem for Utah. The air raid offense with wide offensive line splits seems to cause problems for the Utah defense. Utah needs to prove to me that they can beat the WSU Cougars consistently before I call this a likely win.

7. at Arizona State Sun Devils

How will ASU look with Herm Edwards coaching the team? There is talent back for the Sun Devils, starting behind center with quarterback Manny Wilkins and wide receiver N’Keal Harry, but the Sun Devils only return 12 starters. Running back Eno Benjamin could have a breakout year. This is a tough team to get a read on. Edwards has been out of coaching for so long and has never been a college head coach. Utah has struggled in Tempe, Ariz. as well, winning there in 2016 for the first time since the 1970s. ASU likely will not blitz as much as under Todd Graham. The other nice thing is the game is in November, so it will not be 110+ outside, and Utah will have plenty of film to breakdown of the new ASU staff. Utah is likely the better team, but things can get weird in the desert, and I can’t shake the 30-10 beatdown that ASU put on Utah last year.

6. at UCLA Bruins

Utah sure has a lot of toss up road games. I guess the good news is there is only one really tough road Pac-12 game this year. UCLA has plenty of talent, but like ASU, they only welcome back 12 starters. They also need to find a quarterback, adjust to a totally different scheme, and learn how to play defense, especially against the run. Chip Kelly had tons of success with the Oregon Ducks, but are his schemes still as cutting edge as they were 5-10 years ago? More teams run hurry-up spread offenses, and the Pac-12 was down when Kelly’s rise started. He can certainly win in Westwood, but can he in year one? The reasons I see this game being tough are Utah has historically struggled with spread offenses, and it is a Friday night Pac-12 road game, on the heels of a tough game against USC. Having a short week to prepare for a Kelly offense is a tough task.