In part three of our breakdown of the 2014 Utah football opponents, we dissect the toughest games on the schedule, those Utah isn't expected to win.
4. USC Trojans: Clear of the NCAA sanctions and with a new head coach, the Trojans look to stabilize the ship and reclaim their perch atop the Pac 12. This year, their success will likely lay in their defense (16th nationally with 21.2 points per game allowed in 2013), with All America candidates Leonard Williams and Hayes Pullard leading the charge. On offense, the winner of the quarterback battle will have star receiver Nelson Agholor and running back Buck Allen to lean on as they acclimate to the starting role. This looks to be an exciting game inside RES, and maybe Utah's chance to finally beat the Trojans for the first time since joining the Pac12.
Prediction: USC 21, Utah 17
3. Stanford Cardinal: Of Utah's three toughest matchups, this is the game which gives Utah the most advantageous matchups. As seen last year, Utah's run stuffing defense matches favorably against Stanford's power running game. Furthermore, Justin Thomas' move to the slot corner position will likely minimize any more jump ball touchdowns by the 6-4 redzone nightmare Devon Cajuste (again, you can teach perfect technique, but you can't teach a seven-inch height advantage). That being said, this year's game will be played in Palo Alto, and you can bet the Cardinal will be focused and hungry for some redemption come November. I see another low scoring slugfest waiting to happen, though the Cardinal will likely pull this off and prevent another upset.
Prediction Stanford 27, Utah 24
2. UCLA Bruins: Had Brett Hundley left for the draft, the Bruins would have likely dipped down several spots. However, he didn't, which means trouble for a Utes defense that has struggled to contain him over the last few years. Over the last two years, Hundley has put up 547 combined yards and five touchdowns against the Utes. Paired with a defense full of young talent (and one where Miles Jack supposedly will be focusing solely on defense again), and the game being played in the Rose Bowl, the Bruins present themselves as the second toughest challenge on this year's schedule. That being said, each of the last two games has been won by only a touchdown, and it did take a six-pick game (not to be confused with a pick-six, although there was one of those too) for the Bruins to pull off the win. Besides, you'd think I wasn't a football fan if I didn't go with another Hail Mary call.
Prediction: Utah 28, UCLA 27
1. Oregon Ducks: This was about as easy of a pick as Idaho State. Now, is this game winnable? Definitely. But is it likely that the Utes pull of the win? Not in the least. With their decisions to forgo likely first round draft picks and return for another season with the Ducks, quarterback Marcus Mariotta, center Hroniss Grasu, and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu have all but cemented Oregon's status as the toughest team Utah will face this year. Now, I'm sure we've all heard the words "high octane" and "freakishly fast" way too much, so I'll just cut straight to the point, this offense is great. Pairing Mariotta with a deep and talented stable of running backs consisting of Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner ensures that Oregon's ninth-ranked rushing offense will continue to baffle defenders. Perhaps the only weakness on offense comes at the receiver spot, with the losses of Josh Huff to graduation and Bralon Addison to a season ending ACL tear. On defense, the Ducks aren't much worse, ranking 13th nationally in scoring defense. I see the Utes competing for the first half, as they did last year, before finally succumbing to the Duck's tempo.
Prediction: Oregon 37, Utah 24
As with the previous two articles, feel free to shout out your rankings and predictions and let the debates begin!