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Ranking Utah’s Opponents Leading Up To 2020 Season

Quarterback Tyler Huntley #1 of the Utah Utes runs for a first down against the USC Trojans in the second quarter at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 20, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Utah will look to improve on an 11-3 season in 2019 but they will have a tough schedule ahead of them in 2020.

The Utes lost three key starters on offense along with 9 players on defense. This impacts the Utes because they only had three spring ball practices before the COVID-19 pandemic shut the rest of spring down.

Here is the Crimson Corner’s rankings of Utah’s 2020 opponents in order of difficulty ahead of the 2020 college football season.

12. Montana State Bobcats

Last season, Montana State had a terrific season in the Big Sky with an 11-4 overall record and 6-2 in conference play. They advanced to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs before losing to the eventual National Champion North Dakota State. Quarterback Tucker Rovig is back for his junior season while leading rusher Logan Jones has departed. But, Montana State will have the second-leading rusher Isaiah Ifanse back for his junior campaign after rushing for 813 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Defensively, Montana State has been known to have a solid unit on that side of the ball.

Utah has faced Montana State three times. All were in the 1930s. The Utes won all three meetings in 1933, 1935 and 1937 by a combined score of 127-7.

The Utes and Bobcats will square off on Saturday, September 12 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

11. Colorado Buffaloes

Things were looking good for the future of Colorado football under head coach Mel Tucker but after an offer he couldn’t refuse, Tucker left to be the head coach at Michigan State. The Buffs turn to Karl Dorrell who was the head coach of UCLA from 2003-07 before moving up to the NFL as a wide receiver or quarterback coach.

Colorado went 5-7 overall last season including a 3-6 conference record. Now, they return 6 starters on offense and 7 on defense. Utah has won the last three meetings and seven of the last 8 against the Buffs. Since becoming conference foes, Utah is 7-2 against Colorado. Last season, the Utes picked up a dominating 45-15 win at Rice-Eccles Stadium in the regular season finale to clinch their second consecutive Pac-12 South Division Title.

Colorado’s offense will run through wide receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini who served as the interim head coach this past off-season while the program searched for Tucker’s replacement.

The Buffaloes will have a new signal caller after Steven Montez departed after graduating from the university. The likely starter is junior Tyler Lytle who threw one pass last season. Incoming freshman Brendon Lewis will likely serve as his backup. The running game is in good hands with incoming junior Alex Fontenot who rushed for 874 yards and 5 touchdowns as a sophomore. Expect those numbers to go up and his load to increase with a new quarterback.

On defense, the player that will hold down that side of the ball is standout linebacker Nate Landman who had 114 tackles last season.

Utah will face Colorado in the regular season finale on Saturday, November 28 at Folsom Field in Boulder, Colorado.

10. Wyoming Cowboys

After an 8-5 record last season including a 4-4 conference record in 2019, Wyoming is poised for a run at the Mountain West Conference crown. Utah will face their former Mountain West foe for the first time since joining the Pac-12. The Utes have won the last four matchups and were 10-2 against the Cowboys as conference opponents. Utah won the last meeting in Laramie in 2010 by a final score of 30-6.

They return two key players on offense in quarterback Sean Chambers who threw for 915 yards, 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions while rushing for 567 yards and 10 scores. Also, incoming junior running back Xazavian Valladay will return after a 1,000-yard sophomore season in 2019. The Cowboys offense was mainly a rushing attack last season with just 1,770 passing yards and 11 TD’s.

The defense will still be physical but will have a new play caller in Jay Sawvel who replaces Jake Dickert after he left to join Nick Rolovich as Washington State’s defensive coordinator. Sawvel did not coach in 2019 but was the defensive coordinator for Wake Forest in 2018.

Wyoming returns 5 starters on offense with new starters at wide receiver and two new starters on the offensive line. Both projected starting wide receivers have college experience with both being seniors.

On defense, the Cowboys return five starters, two defensive lineman and three defensive backs.

The Utes will take on the Cowboys on Saturday, September 19 at Jonah Field at Memorial Stadium in Laramie, Wyoming.

9. Arizona Wildcats

The Wildcats finished the 2019 season with a 4-8 record and a 2-7 mark in conference play. Head coach Kevin Sumlin is realizing the rebuild that he is in the middle of with this Arizona program. After a horrific season on defense, Sumlin changed coordinators going from Marcel Yates to Paul Rhoads. Yates is now the defensive coordinator at California. Rhoads joins the Wildcats after two seasons as the defensive backs coach at UCLA.

The Utes have knocked off Arizona in the last four meetings. Since joining the conference, Utah is 5-4 and 2-2 in Salt Lake City. Last season, Utah went down to Tuscon and beat the Wildcats 35-7.

After Khalil Tate graduated, the quarterback position has shifted to incoming sophomore Grant Gunnell who passed for 1,239 yards, 9 touchdowns and one interception last season.

Running back J.J. Taylor left for the NFL which means the carries will go to senior Gary Brightwell. He rushed for 390 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2019.

Linebacker Colin Schooler will anchor the Wildcats’ defense. Last season, Schooler racked up 98 tackles. His linebacker teammate Tony Fields II is back as well after a 94-tackle season in 2019.

Arizona brings back 11 starters, 4 on offense and 7 on defense.

Utah and Arizona will square off on Saturday, November 7 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

8. UCLA Bruins

A three-game winning streak towards the end of the season in 2019 and a 4-2 conference record had UCLA in contention for the Pac-12 South Division Title. But a 49-3 loss at Utah that snapped the winning streak which led to losing the final three games of the season.

The Utes have won the last four games against the Bruins and are 6-3 since joining the Pac-12.

UCLA returns incoming junior Dorian Thompson-Robinson who threw for 2,701 yards, 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season. The running game will move from 1,000-yard rusher Joshua Kelley to senior Demetric Felton.

On offense, the Bruins bring back six starters including a quarterback, two wide receivers and three offensive linemen.

Defensively, UCLA will have a completely new look with only three returning starters including defensive end Osa Odighizuwa and safeties Stephan Blaylock and Elisha Guidry (brother of former Ute Javelin).

The Utes will battle the Bruins on Thursday, October 29 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

7. Washington State Cougars

The Cougars will have a new look with Hawai’i head coach Nick Rolovich taking over in Pullman after Mike Leach left for Mississippi State. Brian Smith and Craig Stuztmann will be handling the play-calling duties for the Cougars on offense while Jake Dickert joins Washington State from Wyoming to be the defensive coordinator, replacing Tracy Claeys.

Utah’s 38-13 win at home last season snapped a four game losing streak to Washington State. The Utes are just 3-4 against Wazzu since joining the conference.

According to Athlon Sports, former Lehi High School star Cammon Cooper is projected to be the quarterback for Washington State as a redshirt sophomore. Rolovich’s style offensively is similar to Leach’s but it isn’t as much throwing the football. That will definitely be the case with junior running back Max Borghi returning after rushing for 817 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2019.

The Cougars return six starters on offense with two wide receivers, three offensive linemen and one running back. Defensively, Washington State is more experienced with seven returning starters. The secondary will have the least experience among the defensive unit.

Utah and Washington State will battle on Saturday, October 10 at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Washington.

6. BYU Cougars

Utah’s rivals BYU finished the 2019 season with a disappointing 7-6 record. The Utes went down to Provo and knocked off BYU 30-12, their 9th straight win in the rivalry.

Now the two will clash in Salt Lake City with some concerns on Utah’s side and some confidence for BYU. The Utes have 9 new starters on defense and three new starters in key offensive positions while BYU has six returning starters on offense including four on the offensive line and seven starters on defense.

Zach Wilson is back at quarterback along with a new running back that is familiar with Utah in graduate transfer Devonta’e Henry-Cole. Defensively, Khyiris Tonga is back for his senior season along with linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi.

If BYU has any chance of snapping this streak, this year would be the time to do so.

The Utes and Cougars will renew their rivalry in the 2020 season opener on Thursday, September 3 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

5. Oregon State Beavers

Oregon State lost most of their production on offense from last season with quarterback Jake Luton, running back Artavis Pierce and wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins all off to the NFL. But the running game will go through Jermar Jefferson who ran for 685 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2019. The Beavers return just three starters on offense. The quarterback reins will likely turn to junior Tristan Gebbia.

The defense is what will carry the Beavers in 2020 with six returning starters including stud linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr. who decided to return for his senior season rather than jump to the NFL.

Last season, Utah won their fourth straight game over Oregon State with a 52-7 victory in Corvallis. Since joining the conference, Utah is 5-2 against Oregon State.

Utah and Oregon State will clash on Saturday, November 14 on Senior Night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

4. Washington Huskies

Surprising news hit Seattle after the season when Chris Petersen decided to step down as the head coach. He handed the program over to defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake who has kept the program flowing during the off-season. John Donovan will be the new offensive coordinator, replacing Bush Harridan while Peter Kwiatkowski remains co-DC but rather than Lake it will be Ikaika Malloe.

The Huskies had a disappointing season in 2019 with an 8-5 record including a 4-5 mark in the conference. Only four starters on offense return for the Huskies but they recruited the second-best class in the Pac-12 in 2020. Former Orem star wide receiver Puka Nacua is expected to have a breakout season for Washington in 2020.

Defensively, Washington brings back seven starters.

Last season, Utah snapped a four game losing streak to Washington with a 33-28 win in Seattle. The Utes are 2-6 against Washington as Pac-12 foes and are winless against the Huskies at home.

The Utes and Huskies will battle on Saturday, October 17 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

3. California Golden Bears

After a surprising 8-5 season last year, the Golden Bears will be a really tough team to beat in the Pac-12. Justin Wilcox and Cal will return 9 starters including quarterback Chase Garbers, running back Christopher Brown Jr. and the entire offensive line. The Golden Bears lost three starters from last season with the trio getting drafted in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Wilcox elected to hire Bill Musgrave as the offensive coordinator to give the Bears and NFL type offense. This game will be tough for the Utes because of the many veterans returning for Cal and the game being played in Berkeley.

The Utes shutout the Golden Bears in 2019 with a 35-0 win in Salt Lake City. Since joining the conference, Utah is 3-2 against Cal.

Utah and California will face off in the Pac-12 opener on Saturday, September 26 at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California.

2. Arizona State Sun Devils

Herm Edwards is quickly turning around the Arizona State program after an 8-5 season in 2019. He has a new offensive coordinator in Zak Hill, replacing Rob Likens as well as two NFL veterans taking over the defensive coordinator position that was previously held by Danny Gonzales. Marvin Lewis and Antonio Pierce will run Edwards’ defense in 2020.

Quarterback Jayden Daniels is back after a fantastic freshman season where he threw for 2,943 yards, 17 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He joins three other returning starters on offense but the defense is stacked with veterans, bringing back seven starters. This will be a really tough game for Utah because it’s in Tempe.

Utah’s 21-3 win last season snapped a two-game losing streak to ASU. The Utes are 3-6 against the Sun Devils as Pac-12 foes.

The Utes and Sun Devils will battle on Saturday, November 21 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona.

1. USC Trojans

Only one coaching change for Clay Helton in the off-season as he let go of Clancy Pendergast and hired former USU DC Todd Orlando to run the Trojan defense. Incoming sophomore quarterback Kedon Slovis is the clear-cut signal caller now for USC after J.T. Daniels transferred to Georgia.

Helton’s offense returns seven starters including wide receiver duo Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns. Eight starters on defense return including former Bingham standout Jay Tufele.

The Utes’ only loss in the regular season in 2019 was against USC when they fell at the Coliseum, 30-23. They are 3-6 against the Trojans as Pac-12 opponents.

Utah and USC will square off on Friday, October 2 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter:Β @TrevorASports.Β You can download and listen to the podcast,Β here.

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