The Utah Utes were the first non-BCS program to win a BCS bowl game when they defeated the Pitt Panthers in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. That win made Utah one of the preeminent mid-major programs in college football, backed up by their 2009 Sugar Bowl win over the Alabama Crimson Tide. Since joining the Pac 12 two seasons ago, however, the Utes have come on hard times, struggling to establish themselves as the powerhouse they were in the Mountain West Conference and their turnaround won’t get any easier in 2013.
That’s because the Utes’ schedule will be tougher than any they have likely faced in the program’s history. Thanks to the division split and rotating schedules, Utah hasn’t had to face the Stanford Cardinal or Oregon Ducks over the last two seasons as they’ve grown into national powers. That ends this year as they welcome the Cardinal to Rice-Eccles Stadium October 12 and travel to Autzen Stadium to take on the Ducks November 16.
They also face tough challenges from the Pac 12 South, including road games against the Arizona Wildcats and USC Trojans in back-to-back weeks. They will also play the final Holy War game currently scheduled against the BYU Cougars on the road. Their home schedule is no picnic either, with tough games against the Oregon State Beavers, UCLA Bruins and Arizona State Sun Devils in addition to Stanford.
In all, Utah goes from playing just two top-25 teams in 2012 to playing a pair of potential top-five teams this season to go along with seven other teams that won seven or more games in 2012. They will face nine teams who went to a bowl game last year in their first 10 games with the only respite being against the Weber State Wildcats of FCS.
It has been a tough transition for Utah into the Pac 12, but it’s only going to get tougher this season. Can the Utes find a way to succeed in 2013?