With the college football season just around the corner, the University of Utah is preparing for one of the most anticipated seasons in program history as they look to build upon their first ever Pac-12 Championship.
With a full schedule ahead, the Utes will encounter formidable opponents all season long that will include several difficult matchups along the way. The following is a ranking of the "tougher" games on Utah's 2022 schedule in terms of difficulty and importance
6. Oregon State Beavers
Another wild fluke from the 2021 season, the Utes 42-34 loss to the Beavers last year was a surprise for everyone involved. Not only was Utah rolling but the Beavers didn't appear to be much of a threat in any really any aspect. But as Utah came to learn, the Beavers should not be treated lightly and that's something they should remember for this upcoming season.
While the game is at Rice Eccles this year, this could be another trap game for the Utes as Oregon State returns nine defensive starters who got the job done last season. However, with Utah's star-studded offense they should avenge last years loss but don't expect a blow out.
5. Washington State Cougars
Coming out of the bye week, Utah will travel to Pullman to face off against Washington State which may prove to be slightly more difficult than what some are predicting. Three years in a row, the Utes have bested the Cougars in closely contested matchups, and they'd love nothing more than to spoil any hopes of a College Football Playoff appearance for Utah.
However, with the addition of a new coach and without Jayden De Laura who is now a Wildcat, Utah should still walk out of Pullman with a victory. But make no mistake, this is perhaps the biggest potential spoiler game on Utah's schedule.
4. UCLA Bruins
UCLA will be the first real in-conference test for the Utes as they're highly favored in every single matchup until they travel back to the Rose Bowl to face off with the Bruins.
Last season, UCLA was looking like a dark-horse contender until Dorian Thompson-Robinson went out with injury and missed the matchup with Utah, which resulted in a loss and sealed their fate.
Assuming Dorian Thompson-Robinson remains healthy this year, it'll be interesting to see how Utah's defense handles him after he proved to be a diverse primary source of offense for UCLA last season.
Overall, if UCLA is going to make a run at the Pac-12 Trophy one final time before departing for the BIG10, its going to be this year. For Utah, they have to be ready to crush those hopes and dreams.
3. Oregon Ducks
Week 11 in Eugene not only presents the Ute's first conference matchup where they aren't favored but perhaps the most difficult and hostile road game in the Pac-12 this year.
After what Utah did to Oregon twice last season, the Ducks will be anything but friendly, especially on their home turf. With that being said, several questions cloud the potential outcome of this matchup and there's just no way to determine what kind of team Utah will face.
Will Bo Nix still be under center at that point? What does the Duck defense look like after Kayvon Thibodeaux? Can the Utes actually win in Eugene? Is there any reason to believe that Utah won't do the same thing they did twice last year?
However, with all those questions considered, this is still a game against one of the conference powerhouses that will be seeking revenge with 54,000 fans behind them.
Beating a team twice in a row is hard. Beating them three times is an even greater challenge.
2. USC Trojans
While it may come as a surprise to see USC ranked so high on this list, the Trojans have built arguably their best roster in recent years and are hungry to win a Pac-12 Championship one more time before they exit for the BIG10.
Now, Should Utah be favored? Absolutely. Rice Eccles is not an easy place to win and as of late, its been downright near impossible. Additionally, with how many new faces the Trojans have on their roster, it's unlikely they'll be firing on all cylinders.
However, in the case that they are playing at a high-level, Utah has to be ready to face a USC team that is desperate to prove themselves a real competitor with their rejuvenated program.
Is this a game Utah can win? Absolutely. Will it be tougher than some fans may think, even with Utah's home field advantage? I think so.
1. Florida Gators
Is Florida the best team on Utah's schedule this season? Probably not. But there is SO much riding on week one against the Gators, especially with what the Utes hope to accomplish in 2022.
Playing against any SEC opponent is never going to be an easy task, but especially in week one in what will be a hostile and loud environment in Gainesville. Regardless of their subpar 2021 season, Florida will not only want to knock off the reigning Pac-12 Champions, but conference pride will certainly raise the intensity. Additionally, the first week of any season provides a challenge as chemistry is usually lacking and mistakes are bountiful.
But if Utah can emerge victorious, this could be a major early boost to their overall ranking and very well could be a deciding factor late in the season when the College Football Playoff Committee is trying to determine who makes the top four.
When you boil it down, Utah has to beat Florida if they want any shot at the CFP this year. Simple as that.
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