You may have noticed a slightly different feeling in the air lately. The days are getting a little shorter, temperatures are (thankfully) starting to drop, pumpkin spiced flavored items are hitting Target shelves, and Spirit Halloween is inhabiting the hollowed corpses of various bygone retailer stores, which can only mean one thing; it’s football season.
We’re just hours away from “Camp Kyle” kicking off the 2022 season, so before we shift focus to players and fall camp storylines, let's take one last opportunity to pour over Utah’s schedule while ranking the importance of each matchup, starting with...
12. Southern Utah
No disrespect to the Thunderbirds from Cedar City. I personally spent last season’s bye week taking in a game at their beautiful facility and thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. With that said, the FCS Thunderbirds went just 1-10 last season and shouldn’t give the Utes much of a challenge.
11. Arizona State
While this has become something of an underrated rivalry during the PAC-12 era, Utah is firmly in the driver’s seat currently with two consecutive wins in the series. A third would give Utah their longest win streak over the Sun Devils since 1966. Despite being competitive in recent years, Utah and ASU are headed in totally opposite directions amidst a myriad of recruiting scandals that have resulted in multiple coaches resigning or being handed a pink slip, all while losing star players to the transfer portal. There’s little reason to believe the Sun Devils will be anything more than a stepping stone for the PAC-12 South this season.
As much as the “Rumble in the Rockies” has tried to become a thing, it just...hasn’t. Credit where credit is due, Colorado has been competitive. This game is always close, and Utah has lost more than a few that they shouldn’t have against the Buffaloes, but no matter what, it always seems like a chore to get excited about this matchup.
I expect Arizona to improve from last season. Few PAC-12 teams have recruited better than the Wildcats recently, and there were flashes of brilliance in Jedd Fisch’s first year. If this Wildcats team can stay healthy, there’s no reason they can’t improve upon their single-win season. With that said, Utah’s home field advantage should turn this into a layup.
8. San Diego State
The Aztecs are a tough opponent to rank. On one side, Brady Hoak’s squad went 12-2 last season, including an upset win over Utah, and are one of the favorites to contend for a Moutain West title in 2022. On the other side, only three offensive starters return from last season, and field-flipping kicker, Matt Araiza, is off to greener pastures. Whether or not former West Virginia gunslinger Braxton Burmeister is able to replicate the success he had at a P5 level now with mostly G5 talent surrounding him remains to be seen, but Utah should be victorious in their quest for revenge against SDSU.
7. Washington State
The Cougars bring in the highly touted Cameron Ward behind center this season after lighting up the scoreboard with Incarnate Word last season, replacing the equally electrifying freshman, Jayden DeLaura. Utah’s secondary will undoubtedly be tested here, but not to the extent they were against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. Consider this a game for Clark Phillips III to make a big statement but with a Thursday night “PAC-12 After Dark” setting, anything, including a Utah loss, is possible.
6. Oregon State
Johnathan Smith has the Beavers on the rise, but much like SDSU, Utah has a chance to exact revenge at home in their first PAC-12 game at Rice-Eccles of the season. The dynamic BJ Baylor is now off to the NFL, so Utah’s rush defense won’t have to contend with that beast this time around, but QB Chance Nolan looks poised to make a claim as one of the conference’s best passers in 2022.
Honestly, Stanford and Oregon State feel interchangeable, and perhaps Oregon State should be here based on the revenge aspect, but Stanford’s brand of football is traditionally more closely aligned with Utah’s which usually makes for a fun matchup. David Shaw’s elite brained athletes tend to enjoy the same ground-and-pound approach as Utah’s. QB Tanner McKee has the advantage this season of a veteran o-line, however, that experience hasn’t yet translated to success. Defensively, the Cardinal are moving away from the 3-4 scheme they’ve employed for years as they incorporate smaller edge rushers into their system. This defense ranked dead last in the conference last season and on paper doesn’t appear to have improved much, but an uptick in offensive production could make Stanford a dangerous team in 2022.
Dorian Thompson Robinson and Zach Charbonet are back for the Bruins, teaming up for one of the better QB/RB combos in the league. Whether or not Chip Kelly is finally able to turn that talent into wins is up for debate, but that won’t stop UCLA from being one of the more competitive teams the Utes face this season.
Just as Utah will be out to exact revenge upon the Beavers and Aztecs, the Ducks surely have Utah on their radar. First-year coach Dan Lanning inherits a talented squad, including Auburn transfer QB, Bo Nix. If these two can replicate the success Mario Cristobal and Anthony Brown had for much of last season, this trip to Autzen could be another one for the ages.
Whether or not Florida will be any good is irrelevant. The Gators are an SEC brand name with more of a national audience than the vast majority of the PAC-12. If Utah can claim a week one victory in the Swamp (especially after gaining national attention in the Rose Bowl), the sky is the limit for how far this team can go.
Unlike Florida, USC will actually need to be good this season for this game to help Utah’s national perception. There’s no denying that the health of the PAC-12 is judged on the health of USC. If Lincoln Riley can actually come in and turn the Trojans around from day one, expect all eyes to be on Salt Lake come October 15th. Assuming both teams remain undefeated, this clash of the titans has far-reaching implications for both teams, and unfortunately, an undefeated USC is exactly what Utah needs to remain relevant.