All early projections are subject to change, and some absolutely will. The order and dates of the conference games has not been set, which can be a huge factor.
Out Of Conference: 2 home, 1 away
It's not the friendliest out of conference schedule in 2014 with a tough game against Fresno State and a very tough one at Michigan. Thank goodness for Idaho State. The Utes will be satisfied with a 2-1 out of conference record next year.
vs Idaho State (Aug 28)
It's the opener and at Rice-Eccles. The Bengals went 3-9 last season as an FCS team. It won't matter who Utah's quarterback is in game 1. They should roll. (1-0)
Fresno State (Sep 6)
The Bulldogs came within 1 late season loss of a trip to the BCS. Instead, they settled for a Mountain West Conference title. 8 senior starters depart, including 1st round pick to be in Derek Carr, which will be a huge blow. Head coach Tim DeRuyter is a hot candidate for a bigger job, so that's also a possibility, but for now, we'll assume he stick around for another year. This game is tougher than I think most Ute fans anticipate, but it is at home for the Utes. (2-0)
at Michigan (Sep 20)
The Utes will either be coming off of their Pac 12 opener or off of a bye. The bye would be nice before heading into the Big House against a team that will surely be ranked. Michigan didn't look like the Michigan of old in 2013, but this is still a team with plenty of talent, and a ton of top end talent from some impressive recent recruiting classes. Utah pulled of the upset in 2008, but by the end of the season, it was clear that Utah was by far the better team. It's going to be tough to pull that off again. (2-1)
Pac 12 Conference Games: 4 home, 5 away
If Utah wants to go bowling again, it's going to take some upsets in Pac 12 play. The home schedule isn't terrible, but the road schedule is an absolute monster.
Ka'Deem Carey. Gone. B.J. Denker. Gone. Terrence Miller. Gone. Rich-Rod defense. Still there. If this is in Tucson, I'd take the Cats. It's at Rice-Eccles. Utah gets the W.
USC will be breaking in a new coach in 2014. The talent will be there (as it always is), but depth will still be an issue with scholarship reductions continuing to make an impact. Ideally, Utah would love to get this game early in the year when the new staff is still finding out what they have, or very late, when the rigors of a season have taken their toll on a team with a player shortage. For now, we'll make the safe pick and go with the Trojans. (3-2, 1-1)
vs Washington State
The Cougars are trending up, and bring back a good chunk of a team that went to a bowl game. They'll be even better in 2014, but not good enough to overcome three new starters on the offensive line, as well as five new defensive starters. The game is in Utah. Last time these two hooked up at Rice-Eccles, the Utes massacred the Cougs. It'll be closer this time, but Utah should still be able to get a win.(4-2, 2-1)
Oregon will still likely start the 2014 season as the favorite in the Pac 12 North, if not the entire conference now that Marcus Mariota has announced he'll return. But there's something about this Oregon program that doesn't feel right there, and I feel like they're ready to take a step back under a coach that isn't anywhere near what his predecessor was. We'll call this our gut home upset of the year.(5-2, 3-1)
UCLA will open the 2014 season as a big favorite in the South and a likely top 10 team (assuming Brett Hundley comes back). The Bruins have always been a very good home team, while having a lot of issues on the road. Unfortunately for the Utes, this is at the Rose Bowl. On paper, might be the toughest game of the year. (5-3, 3-2)
It's Stanford. It's on the road. You don't think revenge plays will be a factor? You're crazy. The Farm isn't an intimidating place to play, but the Cardinal, despite a likely step back due to some defensive departures, is still a top 20 team. (5-4, 3-3)
at Arizona State
Utah's nemesis since their inception into the conference captured the Pac 12 south title in 2013, and will at least compete for it again in 2014. There are a lot of senior departures, especially on defense, but Taylor Kelley returns as do a lot of the skill position playmakers. At Tempe? Nah. (5-5, 3-4)
at Oregon State
The game at Corvallis may be the toughest to call right now. Brandin Cooks will probably enter the draft early, while Sean Mannion could as well. The Beavers lose three senior offensive line starters, which will hurt, but returns all but one defensive starter. The problem is that it's their best defensive player in cornerback Rashaad Reynolds. I'll take the homer route and go with the Utes on the road in this one, although I'm not confident in that pick.
We know this one will close the season. If the earlier games play out less favorably for Utah, Kyle Whittingham (albeit unreasonably and without warrant) could be coaching for his job. Utah is still the better program, but I expect the Buffs to be the surprise team in the Pac 12 next season. Call this the road dump Utah seems to take every year. (6-6, 4-5)
There's really only one game that you can go into the season overly confident in, and that's against Idaho State. The Utes should be able to win at home against Fresno State and Wazzu, but both will be battles. Arizona is close to a toss-up, as is the road game at Oregon State. Colorado could be in that same boat if my ideas about the Buffs are accurate. At UCLA and at Stanford are likely losses, and you can make the case that at Arizona State and Micigan are in that boat. USC is an unknown right now and is a tough one to project, but they still have as much top-line talent as anyone in the conference. On paper, Oregon should beat Utah, but like I said, I don't care for Mark Helfrich, and Oregon looked completely different at the end of the season. Still, the Ducks have plenty of talent.
It all adds up to a season anywhere from 1-11 to 10-2. Now, Utah will not finish with 1 win, but they won't win 10 either. 7 wins looks to be the ceiling, and even that will be extremely difficult to achieve. Then again, no one saw the Utes knocking off Stanford last year either. That's why they play the games.
Early 2014 Schedule Look-Ahead & Quick Picks
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