Given that we've passed the 60-day mark until the start of the 2014 football season, it's about that time to start embracing our inner scout and ranking the Utes' opponents.
12. Idaho State Bengals:
This is the easiest pick of the bunch. As explained by HuskeyandUte and The U Fan Cast earlier this week, it would take a minor miracle for the Utes to lose this game. Look for a similar outcome the Utes vs Weber State from last season, as both teams play in the Big Sky Conference and failed to win more than three games over the 2013 season. I expect a high scoring first half by the starting offense along with several sacks and interceptions (one can always dream) by the defense before the second and third stringers come in for some valuable practice reps.
Prediction: Utah 56, Idaho State 7
Trust me, I'm not just copying and pasting the schedule onto here. If this game were played last season, this would have been much harder to call and much higher up in the rankings. That being said, Fresno State has a porous defense (30.3 points per game allowed, ranking 87th in the nation) and lost both starting quarterback Derek Carr (68.7% for 5,082 yards, 50 touchdown, and only 8 interceptions) and leading receiver Davante Adams (131 catches for 1,718 yards and 24 touchdowns) to the National Football League. Now, breaking in a new QB is never easy, even in a system as QB-friendly as Fresno State's. But putting him against a sack-happy Ute defense in his second game as a starter should lead to a fun game for the Utes faithful.
Prediction: Utah 37, Fresno State 17
10. Colorado Buffaloes:
You see? I promised you I wasn't just copying and pasting the schedule. Surprisingly, this is the hardest game to predict, as Colorado seems to be very competitive with Utah, even in down years. Last season, the Buffs, simply put, were bad at offense and even worse at defense, ranking 88th and 115th respectively (25.4 points per game scoring and 38.3 points per game allowed). One would speculate that even if starting quarterback Sefo Liufau took a significant step forward in his sophomore season, the loss of wide receiver Paul Richardson to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL Draft will significantly hurt the Buff's vertical passing game. On paper, I would be a fool not to give this game to the Utes. That being said, football's never played on paper and each game over the last three seasons has been won by a touchdown or less, so I won't count the Buffs out of this fight.
Predictions: Utah 31, Colorado 24
9. Arizona Wildcats:
Losing your starting quarterback will go a long way in dropping a team down these rankings. More importantly, losing your All American running back will send you skydiving down those rankings. Paired with the fact that said quarterback was your team's second leading rusher and that the game will be at Rice-Eccles Stadium this season and the downward plunge will finally skid to a halt at the number nine spot. The only thing stopping a greater plunge is the return of most of Arizona's 39th ranked scoring defense. This game's biggest question mark certainly plays to Utah's strengths: Arizona's rebuilding offense vs. a consistently stout Utes defense. Without Kadeem Carey's 232 rushing yards, I foresee a far different outcome to this year's game.
Prediction: Utah 34, Arizona 21
Given how dusty my crystal ball is, feel free to shout out your rankings and predictions and let the debates begin. Just make sure to hang onto those predictions come game time for the glorious prize of bragging rights and (if you're a better bargainer then I am) some free meals at your friend's expense.