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Mike Sorensen: Best, worst and most likely scenarios for Utah’s 5 college football teams

Left to right: Kyle Whittingham, Gary Andersen, Jay Hill, Kalani Sitake, Demario Warren.
Left to right: Kyle Whittingham, Gary Andersen, Jay Hill, Kalani Sitake, Demario Warren.
Deseret News and Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s still July, but the college football season gets underway this week all over the country as teams begin practicing in preparation for opening games a little more than four weeks away.

With that in mind, here’s a look at what to expect in the regular season from the five Utah teams in the FBS and FCS ranks in 2019:

Utah

Best-case scenario: The Utes start off with three nonconference wins, go down to Los Angeles and get their first-ever road win over USC. They come back home to beat Washington State for the first time in seven years, then win all the games in which they’re favored during October. At 8-0, the Utes head up to Seattle and avenge those two losses to Washington in 2018 and then sweep past UCLA, Arizona and Colorado and head into the Pac-12 Championship Game against Oregon at 12-0. A win there likely puts them in the College Football Playoff.

Worst-case scenario: The Utes get off to a rocky start with a loss to BYU for the first time in a decade, then start Pac-12 play with another loss to USC at the L.A. Coliseum. At 2-2 and out of the national rankings, the Utes regroup in October, but lose again at Washington and drop a late-season game at Arizona to finish at 8-4

Most likely scenario: Although Utah has done it twice before, going through a season undefeated is difficult. The Utes will be favored in most games, but will have a tough time getting past both USC and Washington on the road and may suffer one of those inexplicable late-season losses they’re notorious for (Arizona State the last two years, Oregon 2016, Arizona 2015 and ‘14) and finish at 10-2.

BYU

Best-case scenario: This time, the Cougars hold on to defeat their rivals in the opening game and win one of their next three tough games. They split their road games against Toledo and USF and win two of the three games against formidable Mountain West Conference opponents Boise State, Utah State and San Diego State. The three November games against Liberty, Idaho State and UMass should be gimmes, leaving the Cougars with an 8-4 mark heading to Hawaii for the holidays.

Worst-case scenario: A big loss to Utah in the opener sends the Cougars on a downward spiral that includes losses to Tennessee, USC and Washington. The Cougars find a win in their next four games and win the three November games before dropping a season finale at San Diego State to finish at 4-8.

Most likely scenario: The Cougars will find a way to win one of their first four games. They should win three of their last four. They’ll be pretty evenly matched in those middle four games and although three are on the road, they should split those games and end up bowl-eligible at 6-6. The question is, will that be enough to save Kalani Sitake’s job?

Utah State

Best-case scenario: It will be tough to match last year’s 10-2 record, but with Gary Andersen retaking the reins in Logan, they have a shot. The Oct. 5 game at LSU is a likely loss as is the Nov. 9 contest against league favorite Fresno State on the road. But the Aggies could win all the rest to finish at 10-2 — again.

Worst-case scenario: The Aggies open with a loss to Wake Forest on the road and lose at San Diego State in mid-September. Other losses come at LSU and Fresno, and BYU gets revenge for two straight defeats on Nov. 2. That’s five losses and a sixth comes at Air Force or home against Nevada for a 6-6 final mark.

Most likely scenario: The Aggies have a tough nonconference schedule with those road games at Wake Forest and LSU to go with a home game against BYU. They also have the most challenging league schedule possible with their three West Division games coming against the top three teams and missing the bottom three, Hawaii, UNLV and San Jose State. An 8-4 record would be a good start to Gary Anderson Part II.

Weber State

Best-case scenario: After two straight 9-2 regular-season records, it looks like that’s about as good as the Wildcats can do this year with two road games at FBS opponents, San Diego State and Nevada. They also have tough road games at UC Davis, picked for second, and Montana, picked for fourth in the Big Sky, although they avoid league favorite Eastern Washington.

Worst-case scenario: Unless things really fall apart because of injuries or something, the Wildcats shouldn’t finish any lower than 7-4.

Most likely scenario: Once again the Wildcats will challenge for the Big Sky championship under coach Jay Hill, but won’t go through league play undefeated and with those tough nonconference games, should end up 8-3 and in the FCS playoffs.

Southern Utah

Best-case scenario: The T-Birds fell off a cliff last year after tying for the Big Sky title the previous year and making the FCS playoffs. They won just one game and finished 10th in the league standings. If they can go 4-8 that would be a step in the right direction.

Worst-case scenario: After an opening game at UNLV, the T-Birds must play South Dakota State, a projected top-five FCS school, and Northern Iowa, a top-20 team, and may manage just one league victory for a second straight 1-10 season.

Most likely scenario: The T-Birds don’t play Sacramento State, the only team they beat last year, but they should find some victories and finish 3-9 as they work their way back up to respectability.