SALT LAKE CITY — There are a few twists and turns in Utah’s path for a three-peat in the Pac-12 South — if, in fact, there is a season. Because of the coronavirus pandemic the Utes and every other team in the league are playing 10-game conference-only schedules. 

That meant the addition of an opponent they weren’t scheduled to play this season in a normal rotation. As luck would have it, Utah is now facing conference favorite Oregon. The Pac-12 Championship Game rematch between the Utes and Ducks is slated for Dec. 5 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

It’s added an obvious sense of urgency to an already precarious situation. The elimination of nonconference contests with BYU, Montana State and Wyoming means every game counts when it comes to Utah winning a third consecutive division championship.

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The Utes get started with road dates at Washington State (Sept. 26) and Colorado (Oct. 3). They’re slated to be the final Pac-12 South team to play at home — Oct. 10 vs. Oregon State.

Then comes a trip to UCLA (Oct. 16) and a built-in bye week in case COVID-19 proves disruptive to a revamped schedule that also includes flexibility with an open date the week of Dec. 12 and the moving of the conference championship game to a school site Dec. 18 or 19.

Getting to the latter is the aim as Utah enters into a season-ending stretch that begins with a visit by Arizona on Oct. 31. The remaining schedule features road games at Arizona State (Nov. 7) and California (Nov. 21), as well as Salt Lake City contests against Washington (Nov. 14) and USC (Nov. 27) before the finale with Oregon.

Finishing with home games against the preseason favorites in each division, though, could be challenging — especially if fan attendance is limited or prohibited, negating what is usually quite a home-field advantage for Utah.

Such concerns, though, are secondary to just getting games played this fall.

When the schedule giving each Pac-12 team five games at home and a similar amount on the road was announced, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham released a statement saying that with all the unknowns surrounding the pandemic that it was exciting because it’s one step closer to getting everyone back on the field.

“The No. 1 priority of our program, university and conference is the health and safety of our student-athletes and we will continue to work together to make sure we operate that way in everything we do,” said Whittingham, whose squad could open training camp as early as Aug. 17 if the fluid situation goes as hoped.

Mark Harlan, Utah’s director of athletics, expounded on the situation during a segment on ESPN 700’s “Bill Riley Show” last week. He praised the ability for everyone in the conference to come together — even with short notice — to discuss things that come up.

“I think everyone has approached it in a very thoughtful way and with eyes on what makes sense medically,” said Harlan, who is on the NCAA’s football oversight committee.

Harlan added that the Pac-12 brought in a specialist to meet all the scheduling demands such as matching bye weeks and looking at certain hot spots with the virus to play those games on the front side for flexibility.

“I really didn’t even pay attention as much as maybe people would expect me to to the Utah column. It was more the collective column,” Harlan said. “So it really wasn’t until the night before that I started looking at things that have been so widely talked about — the backloaded home games and those kind of things.”

It was the collective effort by the conference, he explained, and took some real heavy lifting. Harland joked that it also took a lot of calculators, protractors and other map tools to make it happen.

That said, Harlan said Whittingham has been supportive throughout the process.

“(He) told me all along: ‘Don’t worry about how it looks for us. Let’s just get the conference, you know, in the best position,’” Harlan said.

The late season home games with USC and Oregon, he acknowledged, may involve some snow on the ground.

“It’s probably been mentioned by a few folks but, hey, you’ve got to play them all. That’s the way it’s going to be this year and we’re just hoping we can get to that point and play it.” 

As for fans in the stands, Harlan said the U. has models that “really run the gamut” right now. However, there are none that involve capacity over 50%.

“Most of the models are, frankly, well below that,” said Harlan, who noted that they want to make sure things are done right and there’s “more to come” on the matter.


 2020 Pac-12 South schedules

Arizona Wildcats cornerback Lorenzo Burns (2) breaks away from Utah Utes wide receiver Demari Simpkins (3) after Burns intercepted a pass from Utah Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) during the game at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019.  | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Arizona

Home: Arizona State (Sept. 26), Colorado (Oct. 10), USC (Oct. 24), California (Nov. 14), Oregon (Nov. 20).

Away: Washington (Oct. 3), Utah (Oct. 31), Oregon State (Nov. 7), UCLA (Nov. 28), Stanford (Dec. 5).

Bye week: Oct. 17.

Not scheduled: Washington State.


Utah Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd (20) trips up Arizona State Sun Devils quarterback Jayden Daniels (5) and prevents him from going out of bounds near the end of the first half of an NCAA football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019.  | Colter Peterson, Deseret News

Arizona State

Home: Stanford (Oct. 3), UCLA (Oct. 24), Utah (Nov. 7), California (Nov. 28), Oregon State (Dec. 5).

Away: Arizona (Sept. 26), Oregon (Oct. 9), Colorado (Oct. 31), Washington State (Nov. 14), USC (Nov. 21).

Bye week: Oct. 17.

Not scheduled: Washington.


Utah Utes defensive ends Hauati Pututau (41) and Mika Tafua (42) tackle Colorado Buffaloes running back Alex Fontenot (8) for a loss during the second half of an NCAA football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.  | Colter Peterson, Deseret News

Colorado

Home: Utah (Oct. 3), Arizona State (Oct. 31), UCLA (Nov. 14), Oregon State (Nov. 28), Washington State (Dec. 5).

Away: Oregon (Sept. 26), Arizona (Oct. 10), USC (Oct. 17), Washington (Nov. 6), Stanford (Nov. 21).

Bye week: Oct. 24.

Not scheduled: California.


Utah Utes wide receiver Jaylen Dixon (25) makes catch with UCLA Bruins defensive back Darnay Holmes (1) defending as Utah and UCLA play a college football game in Salt Lake City at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019.  | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

UCLA

Home: USC (Sept. 26), Washington State (Oct. 10), Utah (Oct. 16), Stanford (Nov. 7), Arizona (Nov. 28).

Away: Oregon State (Oct. 3), Arizona State (Oct. 24), Colorado (Nov. 14), Washington (Nov. 21), California (Dec. 4).

Bye week: Oct. 31.

Not scheduled: Oregon.


Southern California wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. (6) makes a catch in front of Utah defensive back Julian Blackmon (23) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Los Angeles.  | Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press

USC

Home: California (Oct. 3), Colorado (Oct. 17), Washington State (Nov. 7), Arizona State (Nov. 21), Washington (Dec. 5).

Away: UCLA (Sept. 26), Stanford (Oct. 10), Arizona (Oct. 24), Oregon (Nov. 14), Utah (Nov. 27).

Bye week: Oct. 31.

Not scheduled: Oregon State.


Utah defensive end Mika Tafua (42) runs out of the pile with a recovered fumble giving the Utes possession in BYU territory during the second half of the Utah-BYU game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019.  | Colter Peterson, Deseret News

Utah

Home: Oregon State (Oct. 10), Arizona (Oct. 31), Washington (Nov. 14), USC (Nov. 27), Oregon (Dec. 5).

Away: Washington State (Sept. 26), Colorado (Oct. 3), UCLA (Oct. 16), Arizona State (Nov. 7), California (Nov. 21).

Bye week: Oct. 24.

Not scheduled: Stanford.