Kyle Whittingham is really wishing he could have drawn up the 2013 schedule this year.
Now, the schedule isn't quite as tough as it looks on paper. It's just backloaded. If the Utes can build up a solid non-conference profile and capture the majority of their September/October contests, they have a decent shot at returning to a bowl game. There are wins to be had on this schedule.
Utah will almost certainly win their season opener against lowly Idaho State. After that?
9/6--Home, Fresno State: Fresno State looks like a daunting matchup on paper after they won the Mountain West Conference, but they will be rebuilding with Derek Carr off to the NFL. They have serious issues at a few positions, including the offensive line and the secondary.
9/20--Away, Michigan: Utah is going to have to hope that youth and inexperience along the line and in the receiving corps will slow down Doug Nussemier and the Utes can turn this into a defensive battle in the Big House. Michigan has been vulnerable in non-conference games, so this is definitely a game that could make or break Whittingham's season going into conference play.
9/27--Home, Washington State: This is a game Utah must have early on if they really want to feel hopeful about the upcoming season. The Utes blew too many winnable Pac-12 games at home last year. Washington State is no juggernaut and they will have their chances.
10/4--Away, UCLA: If Utah is 3-1 or 2-2 going into this one, they will have to feel pretty confident that they can compete with the Bruins. They definitely have matched up very well with them the last two years, hanging around until the final seconds.
10/16 (Thurs.)--Away, Oregon State: Another very winnable game. Utah had plenty of chances to beat Oregon State last year, and at this moment it's hard to say where exactly the Beavers stand going into next season with that solid passing game and that atrocious defense of theirs.
10/25--Home, USC: Here comes the gauntlet. After some early impressive signs in 2012, Utah has pretty much been dressed up and down by the Trojans. To make matters worse, Whittingham had trouble competing with Steve Sarkisian even when he was with a weaker Washington squad. USC is going to be returning a very strong 2014 team and they will be solid favorites.
11/1--Away, Arizona State: But not as solid favorites as these guys! Todd Graham is 11-3 in Tempe, with two losses coming to BCS teams and the other to the eventual Pac-12 South champion. He averaged nearly 50 points per game in each of his wins. Not feeling optimistic about this one...
11/8--Home, Oregon: ...or this one. I guess the upshot is that this particular incarnation of Oregon has never played in Salt Lake City, so maybe they'll be destabilized by the elements the way Stanford was last season. Also, Utah played Oregon really tough last season in Autzen (with Schulz no less!) before finally fading away in the second half.
11/15--Away, Stanford: And we cap off the month of pain with a grudge match. I don't know, but considering Stanford has lost once in the David Shaw era at home, I wouldn't feel too good about scoring a second straight victory here.
11/22--Home, Arizona: Arizona's offense has yet to punch quite as much on the road, but Rich Rod is currently 2-0 against Whittingham. That includes a win in Salt Lake City.
11/29--Away, Colorado: This could be a bowl play-in game for the Utes. You can definitely see a path to five wins up to this point, and this is the best chance for win six.
What do you think of Utah's schedule? Is it too difficult to overcome? Will it be manageable enough for Whittingham and company to find their way to a decent six to eight win season? Or can they pull off miracles?