The 2022 football season is a little more than a month away.
We’ll learn a lot about Utah early on, as it plays at Florida to open the season. The Utes could be ranked in the top 10 in The Associated Press preseason poll.
This year, Utah will be defending its Pac-12 championship, and there’s a change in the Pac-12’s championship game format. Divisions don’t matter anymore when it comes to crowning a champion. The Pac-12 championship game in Las Vegas will feature the two teams with the highest conference winning percentage instead of two division winners.
For the Utes, there are some potential pitfalls, and opportunities to make a national splash, on the schedule. Here’s a week-by-week, game-by-game analysis of Utah’s upcoming season:
Sept. 3: At Florida
For the first time since 2015, when Utah hosted Michigan, the Utes kick off the season against a team from a Power Five conference.
This time, Utah ventures into the heart of SEC country to take on Florida at “The Swamp” in Gainesville. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN at 5 p.m. MDT.
It will mark the first meeting between the two programs in 45 years.
Because expectations are high for the Utes, this game is huge for the program. A win here could set Utah on a path to the College Football Playoff.
Former Utes quarterback Scott Mitchell likes that Utah is opening the campaign in a marquee matchup in SEC country.
“I like it, too, in that Utah usually starts slow. There’s this energy and realization that we’ve got to come out of the gates swinging early,” he said. “We’ve got to have our guys in line. We’ve got to have them firing on all cylinders. We can’t be trying to figure things out in our nonconference games. Who’s our offensive line? Who are our linebackers? What does our secondary look like? That’s got to be in place and dialed in for that first game.”
It also marks the Florida debut for first-year coach Billy Napier, who knows how good the Utes are.
“It’s evident when you put the tape on, this team’s got height, length, speed,” he said. “They’re tough. They play with effort. They’ve got a reputation and a brand that they play to. So, we’ve got a ton of respect for Utah.”
Another intriguing storyline is that this is a homecoming for Utes linebacker Mohamoud Diabate, who spent the previous three seasons with the Gators before transferring to Utah.
“It brings emotion because those are the guys you grew up with and you had more workouts with those guys. Those are some of my closest friends. But at the end of the day, I want to destroy them,” Diabate said. “When I step on the field, they know how I am. You’re my enemy now. At the end of the day, all that stuff that we’ve been through, all those times we were together, that goes out the window. I’m trying to do my job and I know it’s going to be the same on their end. It will come down to who prepares the best and who’s ready.”
Florida will play at Utah in 2023, as part of a home-and-home series that was announced in 2019.
Sept. 10: Southern Utah
A week after traveling more than 2,000 miles to Florida, Utah plays its home opener against in-state foe Southern Utah, an FCS program that plays in the Western Athletic Conference.
The Thunderbirds will certainly be motivated to face the Utes. But they’re coming off a miserable 1-10 season in 2021. SUU closed out the year with a 62-0 loss to Weber State.
Sept. 17: San Diego State
Last year’s 33-31 triple-overtime loss at SDSU was a turning point for Utah’s football season.
In that game, the Utes fell behind and replaced starting quarterback Charlie Brewer with backup Cam Rising. Rising pumped life into Utah’s anemic offense and though the Utes ended up losing, the tone was set for the rest of the season as Rising became the starter.
Utah will be looking to avenge that loss to the Aztecs, who finished 12-2 a year ago.
SDSU yielded just 19.8 points per game last season and the Aztecs defense is expected to be strong again with seven returning starters.
While running back Greg Bell is gone, SDSU has added Virginia Tech transfer Braxton Burmeister, who could be the new starter at quarterback.
Sept. 24: At Arizona State
This marks Utah’s Pac-12 opener, on the road.
The Utes defeated ASU last October in Salt Lake City by rallying from a 21-7 halftime deficit. They scored 28 unanswered points on four consecutive possessions to claim a 35-21 victory.
This time, Utah will be traveling to Tempe, where the Utes have lost nine of 10 games during the past 40 years. The only time Utah has won during that span was in 2016 when it won 49-26.
The Sun Devils lost quarterback Jayden Daniels to LSU via the transfer portal. But they did gain a quarterback, Emory Jones, from Florida.
Oct. 1: Oregon State
Once again, the Utes will have a chance for a revenge game when they host the Beavers.
Last year in Corvallis, OSU rallied from an early 14-0 deficit and earned a wild 42-34 shootout win.
It marked the Utes’ lone conference loss in 2021.
The Beavers didn’t name a starting quarterback last spring but Chance Nolan, who threw for 2,677 yards and 19 touchdowns last season, could earn that spot.
A year ago, OSU ran for 260 yards against the Utes. While the Beavers lost first-team All-Pac-12 running back B.J. Baylor, they do have Deshawn Fenwick, who rushed for 448 yards in 2021, and freshman Damien Martinez was impressive during spring practices.
Oct. 8: At UCLA
The last time the Utes were in Pasadena, they played in a memorable Rose Bowl game, a loss to Big Ten champion Ohio State.
They return to the Rose Bowl to face the Bruins, who will be joining the Big Ten in 2024.
Last season, Utah ran for 290 yards and beat UCLA 44-24 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Tavion Thomas tied a school record for most rushing touchdowns in a single game — four. He ran 24 times for 160 yards.
The Bruins return quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who threw for 2,409 yards last season. Also back is Zach Charbonnet, who ran for 1,137 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2021.
Oct. 15: USC
This is expected to be one of the marquee matchups in the Pac-12 this season, and could go a long way to deciding the Pac-12 championship.
With first-year coach Lincoln Riley and several key additions, USC figures to challenge for the Pac-12 title this season.
Oklahoma transfer quarterback Caleb Williams, a Freshman All-American, is already familiar with Riley’s offense. He’ll be throwing to Jordan Addison, the 2021 Biletnikoff Award winner who transferred from Pitt; Mario Williams, another Oklahoma transfer; and Brenden Rice, a transfer from Colorado. Also joining the cast is Oregon transfer running back Travis Dye and Stanford transfer Austin Jones.
The atmosphere at Rice-Eccles Stadium for this one should be raucous.
Oct. 27: At Washington State
The Utes will have their bye week before a Thursday night matchup at Washington State in Pullman.
Utah has lost its last two games at WSU, in 2018 and 2013.
Ute quarterback Cam Rising started his first game of the season against Washington State in a 24-13 win. Utah fumbled the ball seven times, forfeiting three of them, in the victory in Salt Lake City. It was the Utes’ 2021 Pac-12 opener.
Jake Dickert replaced coach Nick Rolovich, who was fired during the 2021 season, and ended up getting the head coaching job.
The Cougars’ quarterback will be Cameron Ward, an Incarnate Word transfer who replaces Jayden de Laura, who transferred to Arizona. Ward threw for 4,468 yards and 47 touchdowns at Incarnate Word in 2021.
Nov. 5: Arizona
Utah opens November with a home game against the Wildcats.
Last season, the Utes beat the lowly Wildcats 38-29 in Tucson. The week before, Arizona snapped a 20-game losing streak. The Wildcats ranked No. 124 nationally in scoring and No. 101 in points allowed.
Arizona, under second-year coach Jedd Fisch, is expected to be improved this season, and have a new quarterback in Washington State transfer Jayden de Laura.
Nov. 12: Stanford
A year ago, Utah completely demolished the Cardinal at Stanford Stadium, 52-7.
In that game, Stanford was without quarterback Tanner McKee, who was sidelined due to an injury.
The Utes accumulated 441 rushing yards, marking the fourth-most rushing yards in school history.
Utah and Stanford meet this time on senior night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Nov. 19: At Oregon
The Ducks will have revenge on their mind after getting drilled twice by the Utes last season, including the Pac-12 championship game in Las Vegas.
Oregon lost coach Mario Cristobal, who bolted for Miami. His replacement, first-year coach Dan Lanning, helped lead Georgia to the national championship last season as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator.
At quarterback, the Ducks welcomed Auburn transfer Bo Nix and they have five-star recruit Ty Thompson. Byron Cardwell is Oregon’s top returning quarterback.
It won’t be a welcoming atmosphere at Autzen Stadium, in a game that could play a big factor in the Pac-12 race.
Nov. 26: At Colorado
The Utes will finish up the regular season in Boulder on Thanksgiving weekend in a game against the Buffaloes.
Colorado kept coach Karl Dorrell, but the program saw 22 players transfer out while it has six new assistant coaches.
Utah has won five in a row and nine out of the last 10 against the Buffaloes.
Depending on how things go, the Utes could play in the Pac-12 championship game the next week, on Dec. 2 in Las Vegas.