SALT LAKE CITY — Virtually every story written forecasting the 2020 college football season at this point should have the caveat of “if it happens as scheduled,” but if indeed teams can hit the gridiron as is now planned, there are a number of high-profile games that each of the FBS squads in the state of Utah will play this fall.
In addition to the University of Utah’s nine-contest Pac-12 slate, there will be eight more games pitting a Beehive State squad against one from a Power Five conference (including the Utes’ Sept. 3 opener against the BYU Cougars in Salt Lake City), plus an in-state matchup on Oct. 2 between BYU and the Utah State Aggies.
Here’s a breakdown of eight of the top games to anticipate, organized by when they are scheduled to be played.
Utah vs. BYU, Sept. 3
The most “no duh” game on the list is the first one of the season for both the Utes and Cougars, to be played at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. Beside the regular rivalry banter and goings-on that occur in the days before the contest, both sides know a Utah win would make it 10 in a row for the Utes, while the Cougars will be desperately trying to snap that streak.
Utah State vs. Washington State, Sept. 3
Although BYU and Utah will hog the local spotlight that night, the Aggies will also have a marquee matchup to open the season, as they’ll host a Power Five opponent for the first time since 2014.
While the two sides are unfamiliar — the last time they played was in 1961 — Utah State is familiar with the Cougars’ new head coach, as the enigmatic Nick Rolovich (think a light version of former WSU coach Mike Leach) was the coach at Mountain West Conference opponent Hawaii from 2015 until he took over at Wazzu in January.
Two-and-a-half weeks after facing the Cougars, the Aggies will play the Washington Huskies in Seattle as part of a challenging nonconference schedule that also includes SUU and BYU.
BYU vs. Michigan State, Sept. 12
Nine days after the rivalry game against Utah, BYU will play another Power Five school, but this game will be at home. The Spartans are in rebuilding mode, as they struggled to find a head coach last winter to replace Mark Dantonio before hiring Mel Tucker from Colorado.
This contest will mark the second of four straight the Cougars will play against a Power Five school to open the season, just as they did last year. BYU will face the Arizona State Sun Devils on Sept. 19 and the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Sept. 26, with both games to be on the road.
BYU at Minnesota, Sept. 26
With all due respect to the Sun Devils, who are expected to continue their upward trajectory under head coach Herm Edwards, we’ll highlight BYU’s game against Minnesota given the tremendous season the Golden Gophers had in 2019.
Under head coach P.J. Fleck, Minnesota finished last season ranked 10th in the country, and is expected to be excellent again with quarterback Tanner Morgan leading the charge.
BYU vs. Utah State, Oct. 2
The Cougars’ first game of 2020 against a non-Power Five opponent will still be notable, as they and the Aggies will battle for the Old Wagon Wheel in Provo. The past few iterations of the rivalry game haven’t been very close, but the teams are knotted up at three wins apiece over the last six, with BYU snapping a two-game losing streak in 2019.
Both sides will have played a tough schedule up to this point, although Utah State could be more rested, as it will be coming off a bye. The Cougars, though, will have the home-field advantage.
Utah vs. USC, Oct. 2
Truth be told, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of excitement on the Utes’ schedule in 2020. Beside the opener against BYU, Utah’s nonconference slate consists of Montana State and Wyoming, and the Utes won’t play any team that finished 2019 in the AP Top 25 (Oregon was the only other Pac-12 team beside the Utes to do so).
That said, the game against the Trojans often ends up being a good one each year, not to mention important in the race for the Pac-12 South title. Plus, many are predicting that USC will make noise this year.
Utah State at Boise State, Oct. 17
This contest is often played later in the season and thus typically has more Mountain West implications on the line. Additionally, the Aggies will be rebuilding in a lot of areas this fall and the Broncos should be good as usual, so this game might not end up being all that exciting or impactful. Nevertheless, Boise State is always an opponent that should be circled on the calendar (BYU plays the Broncos on Nov. 6 in Boise).
Utah at Arizona State, Nov. 21
At this point, no November game for any of the in-state FBS schools looks to be all that exciting. It’s impossible to say what will be on the line for BYU against Boise State, San Diego State, North Alabama and Stanford, Utah State will play Wyoming, Fresno State, Colorado State and Air Force and Utah will square off against Arizona, Oregon State, Arizona State and Colorado.
Still, there’s bound to be some drama in the final month of the season before conference championship and bowl games, and the Utes’ contest against the Sun Devils in the second-to-last game of the regular season is as good a bet as any to have high stakes.
Most notably, Arizona State is expected to be good with quarterback Jayden Daniels calling the shots. Will there be Pac-12 South implications on the line by the time we get to this point? Of course, only time will tell.