Utah's Jordan Wynn, BYU's Jake Heaps and Utah State's Adam Kennedy

This is the time of year where I start to get antsy and excited for fall camp to start for college football. This year is especially important for the state of Utah as conference realignments have altered the field of play, so to speak.

The University of Utah heads into the Pac-12 as an immediate challenger in the south division. BYU looks forward to a conference-less freedom not shared but by a few others in the nation at 1A level. Utah State will now be  without Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State, or Hawaii as competitors in the WAC.

Here are the best and worst case scenarios for each team in the state of Utah this year:

Utah

The Utes lead the Utah “Pac” as far as upward advancement this past offseason. As they made their membership into the Pac-12 official July 1, 2011, they pull the most eyes and attention from the national media.

In my experience with unbiased, out-of-state, college football fans and analysts, about half the nation expects Utah to contend immediately and half expect them to flop and crumble under the pressure. As far as local input, the general consensus with Ute fans can be summed up with a comment made by fan Tyler Beck saying, “Utah Utes are good.”

Yes they are. But what lies ahead?

Worst Case Scenario – 6-6 record with no bowl appearance.

I strongly believe that September 10th is the most important game on the Utes’ schedule and it isn’t close. They head to LA to face the Pac-10 legend USC Trojans on their home turf as the first Pac-12 game ever played. Talk about your pressure situation. But, as Utah has proven in the past, pressure is what they live for. If Utah loses this game against USC (as in blowout loss), it could start a slide to Utah’s season where they could end up losing to BYU at Provo, Arizona State at home, Pittsburgh at Pitt, Arizona in Tucson, and either Oregon State at home or at Cal. Even in a down and out season, I cannot picture the Utes with a losing record, especially with the favorable schedule they drew this year.

Best Case Scenario – 13-1 record with loss in the Conference Championship game or National Championship.

Keep in mind, this is not my realistic expectation but rather the best case scenario and, yes, it is very possible. Let me explain.

I go back to that USC game. If Utah can go into the Colosseum and beat USC, the confidence level will be through the roof. That may be just what Utah will need heading into Provo to face bitter (and I say bitter very literally as almost 100% of the Cougar fans and players believe they deserved the “W” in last year’s rivalry game) rival, BYU. Stringing wins together against hopeful future rival and hopefully past rival two weeks in a row, and Utah may just have enough to carry them the season’s length.

We already know the schedule works out great for Utah as Stanford and Oregon are absent this year (A situation that will happen only every 4 years or so). The only really tough games remaining are; @ Pitt (Utes 2-0 against the Panthers), vs Arizona State (winnable game at home), vs Oregon State (Utes can repeat history from ’08), and at Arizona (good history against the Wild Cats). Utah benefits from a downhill ending to their season with UCLA, Washington State, and CU making up the last 3 season games. If Utah makes it undefeated past Nov. 5th, they should finish that way.

But…then comes the championship rounds. I think Oregon has the tools to go all the way this year and should Utah win the south, I doubt they would beat the north division champ and end up winning the Rose Bowl against the Big 10 Champ. If, and that’s a huge if, they win the Pac-12, the SEC champion they likely would face, will be ready to pound them in the BCS National Championship Game.

BYU:

Expectations are sky-high for the Cougars this year, at least in Provo they are.

With the Cougars entering their first season of independence in football, they are starting to realize something – the only championship they can claim is the national championship. At BYU media days, players, directors, coaches and fans all talked avidly about how their new standard is winning the national title. We’ll see how it works out.

Worst Case Scenario – 8-5 record with win in the Armed Forces Bowl.

BYU steps up to the plate with plenty to be concerned about. A losing record is not one of those as they will face Utah State, San Jose State, Idaho State, Idaho, New Mexico State, and Hawaii. All of which, should be written-in W’s. (Yes, BYU got destroyed by Utah State last season, but that was at Logan, during BYU’s defensive struggles, and BYU will no doubt be looking for revenge in the worst way for that game.

Starting their season with Ole Miss, Texas, Utah and UCF, I can see a very possible rough start for the Cougars, adjusting to a new offensive coordinator. Then, facing TCU and Oregon State on the road later on poses a concern as well.

Whether or not BYU tanks this season, won’t really matter with their bowl affiliation. The Armed Forces Bowl isn’t exactly given first pick of the litter. BYU will likely face another UTEP caliber team and another likely blowing out of that team.

Best Case Scenario – 12-1 record with a loss to Ole Miss, Texas, Utah, TCU, or BCS Bowl opponent.

This is an interesting call. I have trouble thinking BYU will make it out of their first 5 games unscathed. There is too much talent on the other side of the ball with Ole Miss and Texas for me to say the Y will get both on the road. If they do, the Holy War is always a 50/50 and they run the risk losing that game just as Utah does. TCU has BYU’s number the last 4 years, but they also lost a lot more than most realize. They were a young prodigy-filled team that grew up and played together the last 3 years. Many of them have left and I think BYU should be able to win this game.

Should BYU do the unthinkable and win out to the end of the season, the pure weakness of the second half of that schedule will betray the Y as it has Utah, TCU, and Boise State. BYU is not guaranteed a spot in a BCS game, even, unless they finish in the top 6. An undefeated record would do that for sure. BYU is not a team known for its composure in big-time games, and likely would be beaten in a BCS appearance.

Utah State:

The Aggies are in their 3rd year now with Coach Gary Anderson. His first two seasons, he was working with players recruited by his predecessor Brent Guy.

The Aggies hit rock bottom a few years ago in 2006, when they won just 1 game all season going 1-11. Since then, they’ve gone 2-10, 3-9, 4-8, and 4-8. I expect a better showing with the schedule the Aggies will have to work with.

Worst Case Scenario – 2-10 with wins against San Jose State and New Mexico State.

With one year left to some conference foes’ affiliation with the WAC, Utah State won’t be in a position of dominance by any means, but they will have familiarity. I don’t think Anderson will regress in his work to the point of losing to SJSU and NMSU. Utah State is noticeably more athletic, quicker, and more hungry for success than in years past but that opener against Auburn could really hurt the Aggies, and I mean that literally. Last year, Utah State came close to beating Oklahoma (or I guess keeping with them long enough to sneak past), but Oklahoma hadn’t found their niche yet. BYU is also going to be in the hunt for revenge against the Aggies for how badly they were embarrassed last season in Logan.

Best Case Scenario – 10-3 with a victory in the Humanitarian Bowl against MAC Champion.

Believe me, I know this is not a sight used to being seen. Utah State having a little respect pre-season. Fact is, If they can gain any sort of confidence against Auburn, even in the loss, they have a cupcake schedule to feast on after that. I see in no way BYU losing to the Aggies at Provo. Also, I predict Fresno State, Wyoming or Nevada will make their 3rd loss in such a season. With the confidence and excitement of playing in the first bowl game Utah State has played in since 1997, where they lost to Cincinnati in the Humanitarian Bowl.

I believe that every season for these 3 teams will fall somewhere in the middle of these predictions, but it’s nice as a fan to think of best case scenario for your team, and worst case for your rival. Right?

Brandon Burton dives to block Mitch Payne's kick.

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  1. […] NCAA Football 2011: Best and Worst Case Scenarios for Utah’s College Football Trio […]

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