Wilson's health holds the key for Utah because, in the past, when he's been good, he's been very, very good and gives them a chance to win. And if he goes down again with an injury, heaven forbid, at least now they have a more-than-adequate backup QB in Kendal Thompson.
The schedule, though, is still the toughest thing for Utah to overcome. To paraphrase a line out of "The Wizard of Oz" "Toto, this doesn't look like the Mountain West Conference any more."
Not at all. Gone are MWC patsies that the Utes could almost always count on beating. Instead, they've been replaced by solid Pac-12 "name" opponents like Washington State, Oregon State and Arizona.
Add to that the league's "big boys" like UCLA, USC, Oregon, Stanford and Arizona State, and it's no wonder the Utes have had trouble holding their own in this high-profile league. And a preseason schedule featuring Fresno State and Michigan ain't exactly a walk in the park, either.
But I have faith in Coach Whit and, though it won't be easy, I believe he and his guys will find a way to get ’er done.
Utah State — Keeton and the Aggies get things started Sunday evening at Tennessee, which is now considered a winnable game for this resurgent USU program that has put together three straight winning seasons for the first time in more than 30 years.
Home games against Idaho State, Wake Forest, Air Force, UNLV, New Mexico and San Jose State will enhance the Aggies' chances for a fourth straight winning season and a fourth consecutive bowl appearance, and they'll definitely be in the hunt for a Mountain West championship.
And although they'll face tough road games at Tennessee, BYU and Boise State, a 10- or 11-win season certainly looks feasible for this team if Keeton comes back strong and stays healthy all year.
Weber State — Hill takes over a program that has sputtered to a combined 4-19 record over the past two seasons. And he'll jump right into the fire with a season-opening game at Arizona State on Thursday, followed by a home game against three-time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State.
But after that, the Wildcats' schedule softens up considerably as they start facing more beatable Big Sky foes, although Weber State will play four of its first five games and five of its first seven on the road.
That's not a recipe for a quick turnaround, but the ’Cats will definitely be better under the guidance of Hill and his staff. How much better remains to be seen.
Southern Utah — The Thunderbirds soared to their first appearance in the FCS national playoffs last year, and they'll be looking to build upon that success this season with a schedule that includes rugged road games against Nevada, Southeastern Louisiana and Fresno State in three of their first four outings.
After that, they jump into the heart of their Big Sky schedule with home games against Weber State, top-ranked Eastern Washington, North Dakota and always-tough Montana.
Away games with Cal Poly, Idaho State, Sacramento State and Northern Arizona give the T-Birds a road-heavy schedule with only five of 12 games at home, so a road breakthrough or two will be paramount to another winning season.
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