Thoughts on Utah's new 2020 regular season schedule

Ryan Kostecka

If for whatever reason college football gets canceled this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it won't be for lack of trying on the Pac-12's.

Yesterday, the conference released its 2020 conference-only regular season schedule; set to begin on Saturday, Sept. 26 over the following weeks with 10 games and one bye week.

“From the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, we have been committed to prioritizing the health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to our athletic programs,” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. “The schedule and plans approved today and path to return to competition are subject to public health orders and will be taken in accordance with the health and well-being guidelines developed by our Pac-12 Medical Advisory Committee. The schedule and return to play plans provide for maximum flexibility and the best opportunity to play all fall sports in an environment that prioritizes safety. At the same time, we will continue to evaluate the best available science, data and advice of public health officials as we make decisions and any required adjustments going forward.”

Pac-12 Schedule

The conference also released its guidelines for the upcoming season and how it plans to deal with the pandemic should another breakout occur throughout any program in the Pac-12. 

Each team will play five home games and five road games. Games that have to be rescheduled due to any reason can be either made up during their bye weeks OR in week 12 of the season (Dec. 12). Week 12 was specifically designed as a makeup date with the regular season set to end on Dec. 5 and the conference championship scheduled for Dec. 18 or 19.

That championship game was originally set to take place at newly-formed Allegiant Stadium (home of the Las Vegas Raiders) in Las Vegas. But the conference decided that this year it would be a "home' game for the host team — the championship game will go back to Las Vegas next season.

"This is an exciting announcement as we continue to plan for fall sports seasons while taking all precautions for doing so in a safe and healthy manner," Director of Athletics Mark Harlan said in a statement. "I am particularly excited for our student-athletes and coaches in our fall sports who now have dates to plan for. We, and they, know we must also remain flexible as we go forward."

UTAH 2020 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

Saturday, Sept. 26 — @ Washington State
Saturday, Oct. 3 — @ Colorado
Saturday, Oct. 10 — vs. Oregon State
Friday, Oct. 16 — @ UCLA
Oct. 24 — BYE
Saturday, Oct. 31 — vs. Arizona
Saturday, Nov. 7 — @ Arizona State
Saturday, Nov. 14 — vs. Washington
Saturday, Nov. 21 — @ Cal
Friday Nov. 27 — vs. USC
Saturday, Dec. 5 — vs. Oregon

"With the unknowns that everyone has been dealing with, it is exciting to see a schedule come to fruition and to be one step closer to getting our student-athletes on the field," said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham in a statement. "The No. 1 priority of our program, university and conference is the health and safety of our student-athletes and we will continue to work together to make sure we operate that way in everything we do."

There are two things that jump out at me right away when looking at the schedule, and they are how difficult the beginning and the end of the schedule.

EARLY ON THE ROAD

Utah's first two opponents, Washington State and Colorado, aren't expected to finish in the top half of their respective decisions — but playing both of those games on the road are pretty difficult. Not only are they tough places to play in general, but starting your first two games of the season with a new quarterback, running back and defense against two vastly different styles of play could be problematic.

The Utes' schedule is so backloaded that they can't afford to start the season on a bad note, and playing in Pullman, Washington and Boulder, Colorado is not the start you were looking for if you're a Utes fan.

BRUTAL FINISH

Finally, Utah may have the most difficult schedule of any team to finish the season. Yes, three of the five games are home but playing the top three teams in the North division and the top two teams in the South division over that time period is no easy feat, especially when you throw in a Friday night game and no BYE week.

It begins with an away game at Arizona State, a sneaky opponent — as the conference learned last year with Oregon that playing down in Tempe in November is a scary thing. 

That's followed by a home game against Washington, a team that has become a sort of rival with the Utes over the past couple of seasons. Two weeks later is a Friday night home game against USC, a game deep into November with the cold, something Utah fans have been wanting for a long time. That game could go a long into determining who represents the South division in the conference title game.

Nov 2, 2019; Seattle, WA, USA; Utah Utes defensive back Julian Blackmon (23) intercepts a pass intended for Washington Huskies tight end Cade Otton (87) during the third quarter at Husky Stadium.
Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Sandwiched between those two contests is massive trap game, and one Utah has to be very focused on — a road trip to Cal. Justin Wilcox has Cal playing much better as of late, with the return of a talented defense and a a healthy starting quarterback, don't be surprised if the Bears make that contest very interesting.

Finally, it's the Pac-12 championship rematch to end the year against Oregon, a team who has a legit shot at the College Football Playoff this season. Utah will be highly motivated for that contest, especially after what happened last year in December — but it'll be interesting to see what the Utes have in the tank at that point following this brutal gauntlet of games.

In the end, if the Utes can survive the opening two weeks, there's no reason to suggest they won't be 5-0 heading into the final half of the season — and that's when anything can happen.

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