KEY NONCONFERENCE GAME
vs. Texas A&M, Thursday, Rice-Eccles Stadium
Avenging last season's loss would set the tone for another successful season. With a national audience watching on ESPN and a packed house at Rice-Eccles Stadium, it could also help the Utes move up in the national top 25 polls.
KEY CONFERENCE GAME
at San Diego State, Oct. 30, Qualcomm Stadium
This could potentially be the Mountain West Conference championship game. The Aztecs, with individual stars like running back Lynell Hamilton and linebacker Kirk Morrison, may be Utah's greatest threat in terms of dethroning the champions.
1 — Alex Smith is the only quarterback Utah has with any Division I experience. The junior is backed by 17-year-old Brian Johnson, Dixie State product Adam Madsen and junior college transfer Fano Tagovailoa.
10 — Utah's defense has held opponents scoreless for 10 consecutive quarters. The streak began with the second half of the Wyoming game and extended through contests against BYU and Southern Mississippi.
20 — The Utes open the season ranked 20th in The Associated Press college football poll. It's the first time they've been included in the national preseason listing.
If you're head coach Urban Meyer, stop reading here.
Utah's best-case scenario, of course, would be running the table and crashing the Bowl Championship Series. An invitation to the Fiesta Bowl would be a fitting reward for an 11-0 season. A favorable schedule and last season's success has some Utah fans believing it's possible.
In reality, a second consecutive MWC title and accompanying trip to the Liberty Bowl will likely be as good as it gets. So, too, would another 10-2 finish.
A season-opening loss to Texas A&M and an injury to quarterback Alex Smith would put the Utes in a quick downward spiral.
Could they recover? Perhaps, but it wouldn't be hard to envision a 2-3 start in a worst-case scenario. That would require four wins down the stretch just to become bowl eligible. A fifth would pretty much guarantee a spot in the Las Vegas or Emerald bowls.