QB Josh Rosen (Photo by Steve Cheng)

Which games are the most important on Utah's 2016 docket?

Ranking the 12 opponents for the upcoming season in terms of importance

1) vs USC

The Trojans will likely enter the season as the favorites in the South. It's the Pac 12 opener for both teams and the Utes get them at Rice Eccles. This becomes the most important game on the Utah schedule. Not a must win, but getting off to a positive start in conference play against arguably their biggest rival for the division crown this season is imperative. A loss essentially puts them two games back of USC with the Trojans owning the tiebreaker. A win essentially puts them two games ahead.

2) at UCLA

You could make a case that this is 1A with the Bruins being the other South division contender that is expected to receive a lot of preseason love. With Josh Rosen at the helm in year 2, he's being touted as a Heisman hopeful, but UCLA has a lot of offensive holes to fill. This one is in mid-October though so the Bruins will likely have found their playmakers. The road team has won the last three games in the series.

3) at Arizona State

Utah got the monkey off of their back last season with their first win over ASU since joining the conference, but they're yet to knock off the Sun Devils in Tempe. Todd Graham's squad will have a new QB under center, but this matchup isn't until week 10, so that shouldn't play a part. If there's a must-win road game on the schedule, this is as close to one as you'll find.

4) vs Oregon

After last season, Oregon may have extra motivation against a Utah squad that absolutely destroyed them in Eugene. The Ducks will be breaking in a new starting quarterback, but with this being Utah's week 11 game, whoever it is won't necessarily be 'new' anymore. Oregon should have top 20 talent and if Utah is in the thick of the Pac 12 South race, this late season matchup will have a lot of weight.

5) vs Washington

Washington is the preseason 'dark-horse' team that many expect to take that next leap. With Jake Browning at QB, they may have one of the top 5 to 10 quarterbacks in the country. Mikes Gaskin can run it and Chris Peterson defenses are turning into 'Utah North.' Utah has it at home and a win would help the national profile.

6) vs Arizona

Surprised to see a Pac 12 South opponent this low? Don't be. Arizona is a definitive number 5 in the division in my eyes and not a team I'd take seriously as a contender for the crown. They have pieces and have been a thorn in Utah's side, but I'm not sure that a loss here would hurt as much as it would to teams ahead of the Wildcats on this list.

7) at Colorado

Colorado isn't expected to contend for the South title and they're probably not even ready to go bowling yet, so in terms of division jockeying, this one isn't as important as the the games against the other south opponents. That said, if everyone else gets through the Buffs, it puts Utah behind the 8 ball should they drop a very winnable game. Roadies in Boulder haven't been easy though and this one could have a South title on the line.

8) at Cal

Cal will have a new quarterback and need to replace part of their receiving corps, but the defense should be better. A road game against a north opponent? Shouldn't carry that much weight.

9) at Oregon State

The Beavers are going to be awful again, so Utah should roll into Corvallis and win. If they don't, it hurts, but this one doesn't mean much other than keeping pace with the rest of the teams who will crush Oregon State.

10) vs BYU

They're the rival, it means a lot for bragging rights, and helps a bit with recruiting. Keep the streak alive against the Cougars and hold serve at home. I'd like to put this one higher, but it's not a conference game, so I can't rationalize doing so.

11) vs Southern Utah

A home game against SUU? Should be a blowout. Can't drop this one though or you lose all national respect. That's why it's not number 12.

12) at San Jose State

A road game at San Jose State shouldn't be tricky (think Fresno State last season). Utah shouldn't have any issues, but a loss wouldn't be devastating. If it were to happen, only Utah and BYU fans would remember two weeks after the fact.


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