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Utah Football: Ranking Opponents Leading Up To 2021 Season

Utah Utes mascot Swoop and the team run onto the field before the start of an college football game against the San Jose State Spartans on September 16, 2017 at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – After posting a 3-2 record in the 2020 shortened season, Utah football is looking forward to a full and challenging schedule in 2021.

Ranking the upcoming opponents for Utah football is not easy as they have a difficult schedule, particularly in the Pac-12 south division.

Utah ended the 2020 season with a three-game winning streak and is hopeful to play a full 12-game regular season in the fall.

Here is the Crimson Corner’s rankings of Utah’s 2021 opponents in order of difficulty ahead of the 2021 college football season.

12. Weber State Wildcats

Jay Hill has done a tremendous job with the Weber State football program. They went 5-0 in the regular season and won the Big Sky title outright for the first time in school history during the spring season. Unfortunately, they lost to Southern Illinois in the first round of the FCS Playoffs.

Despite having a talented quarterback, running back group and a tremendous defense, the Wildcats are still in the FCS (but a dang good team). Utah should be challenged a little bit but once the rust comes off, the Utes should roll. This is a great season opening matchup for Utah.

Utah and Weber State will square off in the season opener on Thursday, Sept. 2 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

11. San Diego State Aztecs

The Aztecs played eight games during the COVID-19 2020 season. They went 4-4 with wins over UNLV, Utah State, Hawai’i and Colorado State. SDSU lost to San Jose State, Nevada, Colorado and BYU.

During the offseason, the Aztecs picked up Mississippi State transfer wide receiver Tyrell Shaver from the portal. Seven Aztecs decided to enter the transfer portal this offseason.

Also, quarterback Carson Baker decided to leave the program. Besides Georgia Tech transfer Lucas Johnson, SDSU has Laney College transfer Jordon Brookshire and Mississippi State transfer Jalen Mayden competing for the starting job.

Like past years, SDSU’s running game was strong with four running backs rushing over 200 yards and one getting over 600 yards. Three of those running backs are back for 2021, including lead rusher Greg Bell.

Utah will travel to Carson, California to face old Mountain West foe San Diego State on Saturday, Sept. 18.

10. Arizona Wildcats

Lots of change within the Wildcats’ program since the 2020 season ended. They fired Kevin Sumlin and hired Jedd Fisch, which frankly was a head-scratching hire. The first time college football head coach will have a monumental task ahead of him in turning around the Arizona program. Arizona went 0-5 in 2020 with losses to USC, Washington, UCLA, Colorado and Arizona State.

Fisch and his staff have been busy in the transfer portal, bringing in 10 players, including six from power-five programs.

Although, Fisch brought in a lot of players from the portal, he lost some key pieces as well. Quarterback Grant Gunnell is off to Memphis, offensive lineman Robert Congel is at Oklahoma, while eight others have left the program.

Will Plummer is a strong possibility to win the starting job at quarterback but will be competing with Oregon State transfer Nick Moore, Washington State transfer Gunner Cruz, Cameron Fietz, Luke Ashworth and Kevin Doyle.

Gary Brightwell is off to the NFL but Michael Wiley has experience at the running back spot. It will take a couple of seasons for Fisch to piece together a good team that will compete in the conference.

Utah will travel to Tucson to face the Wildcats on Saturday, Nov. 13.

9. Washington State Cougars

The Cougars played just four games last season and went 1-3. Their only win came against Oregon State, while falling to Oregon, USC and Utah. The Utes beat Washington State 45-28 in the regular season finale at Rice-Eccles Stadium in come-from-behind fashion.

The first season under head coach Nick Rolovich wasn’t ideal for the Cougars and now he and his staff are facing some challenges within their roster. Quarterback Jayden de Laura was suspended during the offseason and still hasn’t been reinstated. Key wide receivers Rodrick Fisher, Jamire Calvin and Kassidy Woods entered the transfer portal along with 16 other players.

However, they did land Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano and Wisconsin running back Nakia Watson from the portal. Whether de Laura returns to the program or not, the quarterback position will be battled for as Guarantano will compete for the starting job along with former Lehi High School star Cammon Cooper.

Utah and Washington will battle at Rice-Eccles Stadium in their Pac-12 opener on Saturday, Sept. 25.

8. Oregon State Beavers

The Beavers had an up-and-down 2020 season, going 2-5 with wins over California and Oregon. They lost to Washington State, Washington, Utah, Stanford and Arizona State. Utah beat the Beavers 30-24 in Salt Lake City on December 5.

Jermar Jefferson is off to the NFL and the Beavers will need to find their next running back to carry the load. But quarterbacks Tristan Gebbia and Chance Nolan are back. Both started games for the Beavers in 2020.

The recruiting trail for Oregon State was not kind as they ranked last in the Pac-12 and 109th in the nation with their 2021 signing class. However, they did pick up a commitment from all-purpose back Deshaun Fenwick from South Carolina. Also, former Georgia wide receiver Makiya Tongue is with the Beavers.

Utah will travel to Corvallis to face Oregon State on Saturday, Oct. 23.

7. BYU Cougars

Despite Utah winning the last nine rivalry games, BYU still poses a challenge because of the rivalry piece to the puzzle. Quarterback Zach Wilson, along with offensive tackle Brady Christensen, wide receiver Dax Milne, tight end Matt Bushman, cornerback Chris Wilcox and defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga are off to the NFL.

BYU had a strong 2020 season, going 11-1. Problem was that they weren’t really challenged since all of their power-5 opponents that were originally on the schedule were canceled due to COVID-19. The Cougars beat Navy, Troy, Louisiana Tech, UTSA, Houston, Texas State, Western Kentucky, Boise State, North Alabama, San Diego State and UCF in the Boca Raton Bowl. Their only loss came against Coastal Carolina.

Kalani Sitake and Aaron Roderick will be going through a quarterback competition in fall camp with Jaren Hall, Jacob Conover and Baylor Romney battling for the starting job. Running back duo Tyler Allgeier and Lopini Katoa are back for the 2021 season after Allgeier rushed for over 1,000 yards.

Losing Milne to the NFL is huge but BYU has some playmakers on the outside with Neil Pau’u, Gunner Romney, Kody Epps and others. The offensive line will be younger but is still led by a powerful talent in James Empey. The defense will also be younger in 2021 and has some question marks at key positions.

The Cougars picked up some talented players from the transfer portal, including former Utah State cornerback Jakob Robinson. Also, former Ute Samson Nacua and his brother Puka from Washington are in Provo.

Utah and BYU will renew their rivalry in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11.

6. Colorado Buffaloes

The first season under Karl Dorrell was a shock to the Pac-12 and college football world as they were ranked at one point 2020 after winning their first four games before losing to Utah at home, 38-21. The Buffaloes went on to lose to Texas in the Alamo to finish the season with a 4-2 record. They beat UCLA, Stanford, San Diego State and Arizona.

The first recruiting class under Dorrell to be expected as they ranked No. 10 in the Pac-12 and 64th in the nation. They lost nine guys to the transfer portal. Dorrell and his staff recruited well in the portal, signing Tennessee quarterback J.T. Shrout, Arkansas tight end Blayne Toll, Notre Dame linebacker Jack Lamb and Oklahoma safety Robert Barnes.

Returning in 2021 is running back Jarek Broussard had a breakout season in 2020, rushing for 813 yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Sam Noyer is back as well after throwing for 1,000 yards, 6 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, while rushing for 191 yards and 5 TD’s.

Also, star linebacker Nate Landman is back after his strong 2020 season was cut short due to an injury he suffered against Utah.

Utah will host Colorado on Friday, Nov. 26.

5. Stanford Cardinal

The Cardinal had to overcome some serious adversity during the 2020 season. They had to spend about one month away from Palo Alto and play games on the road due to COVID-19 restrictions in their area. Despite that, they went 4-2 with wins over California, Washington, Oregon State and UCLA – the last four games of the season. Their losses came against Oregon and Colorado.

Stanford lost some key players to the NFL, including quarterback Davis Mills, wide receiver Simi Fehoko. Running back trio Nathaniel Peat, Austin Jones and E.J. Smith are all back for the 2021 season. The quarterback position looks like Jack West’s job to lose but Tanner McKee is another option. A rarity in college football for Stanford is only having two players enter the transfer portal this offseason.

The Cardinal’s 2021 signing class ranked No. 7 in the Pac-12 and 50th in the nation.

Utah will travel to Palo Alto to face Stanford on Friday, Nov. 5.

4. UCLA Bruins

It was another roller coaster season for UCLA and Chip Kelly in 2020. They finished with a 3-4 record, knocking off California, Arizona and Arizona State. Their losses came against Colorado, Oregon, USC and Stanford in double overtime.

All eyes will be on quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who decided to return to UCLA for one more season after throwing for 1,120 yards, 12 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, while rushing for 306 yards and three touchdowns.

Running back Demetric Felton left for the NFL as did defensive lineman Osa Odighizuwa. The running back position is in good hands with Brittain Brown returning for another season.

The Bruins signed the fourth-highest ranked class in the Pac-12 and No. 31 in the country. The transfer portal was good to them as they picked up commitments from Washington QB Ethan Garbers, Michigan RB Zach Charbonnet, Texas A&M WR Kam Brown, Alabama LB Ale Kaho and Notre Dame safety Jordan Genmark Heath.

Utah will host UCLA on Saturday, Oct. 30.

3. Arizona State Sun Devils

Herm Edwards and Arizona State had a tough 2020 season after getting hit by COVID-19 cases in their program for multiple weeks. The Sun Devils played four games and went 2-2 with wins over Arizona and Oregon State, while losing to USC and UCLA.

Jayden Daniels is back for ASU at quarterback after throwing for 701 yards and five touchdowns, while rushing for 223 yards and four touchdowns. Rachaad White (420) and Chip Trayanum (290) were the leading rushers for the Sun Devils and combined for nine touchdowns. Both will be back for the 2021 season.

They lost 13 players to the transfer portal this offseason. But they brought in a lot of talent, including Utah WR Bryan Thompson, Oklahoma TE Jalin Conyers, North Carolina OT Triston Miller, LSU DE Travez Moore, UMass OLB Xavier Steele and TCU CB Chandler Fincher.

Utah will host Arizona State on Saturday, Oct. 16.

2. Oregon Ducks

The two-time Pac-12 champions are back and will be a really tough team that will be contenders to three-peat. They went 4-3 on the season in 2020 and appeared in the Pac-12 championship game after Washington couldn’t play due to COVID-19. Oregon beat Stanford, Washington State, UCLA and USC in the Pac-12 title game. Their losses came against Oregon State, California and Iowa State in the Fiesta Bowl.

2020 starting quarterback Tyler Shough left the program to join Texas Tech. Running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio is off to Boise State. A total of 11 players entered the portal this offseason.

Despite losing all that talent, the Ducks reloaded by signing the No. 1 class in the Pac-12 and 6th in the country. They picked up talented prospects in former Orem high star OT Kingsley Suamataia, Corner Canyon star center Jackson Light and Kearns star safety Jeffrey Bassa.

Also incoming freshman quarterback Ty Thompson is expected to compete for the starting job right away and has a good chance of winning the job. Oregon signed 19 four-star recruits and four three-star prospects in the 2021 class.

Utah will host Oregon on Saturday, Nov. 20.

1. USC Trojans

With Clay Helton on the hot seat in 2020, the Trojans had a tremendous season, going 5-1 on the season with wins over Arizona State, Arizona, Utah, Washington State and UCLA before losing to Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game.

Quarterback Kedon Slovis is back for another season with the Trojans after throwing for 1,921 yards, 17 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in 2020. Running back duo Vavae Malepeai (238 yards, 3 TD’s) and Stephen Carr (176 yards, 2 TD’s) will also return for the 2021 season.

Bru McCoy and Drake London are the top returning receivers from 2020. London had 33 receptions for 502 yards and three touchdowns. McCoy hauled in 21 receptions for 236 yards and one TD.

The Trojans lost RB Markese Stepp to Nebraska, defensive end Connor Murphy to UNLV, OLB Abdul-Malik McClain to Jackson State and kicker Chase McGrath to Tennessee.

Wide receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughs, along with defensive tackle Jay Tufele, offensive tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker and safety Talanoa Hufanga left for the NFL.

Some serious talent is joining the program via recruiting class and the transfer portal. This offseason, USC picked up commitments from Texas RB Keaontay Ingram, Memphis WR Tahj Washington, Colorado WR K.D. Nixon, Alabama DT Ishmael Sopsher and Texas safety Xavion Alford from the portal.

USC’s recruiting class ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12 and No. 8 in the country after signing Corner Canyon star QB Jaxson Dart and the No. 1 prospect in the nation, defensive end Korey Foreman.

Utah will travel to the Coliseum – a place they have never won – to face the Trojans on Saturday, Oct. 9.

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

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