SALT LAKE CITY — We’ve heard for the last several months about the strength of BYU’s upcoming football schedule. Just two weeks ago our paper ran a story by Jeff Call asking, “Will BYU’s schedule be toughest in school history?” with quotes by athletic director Tom Holmoe and coach Bronco Mendenhall talking about the tough slate.
Indeed, the schedule may be BYU’s toughest ever and is something to be proud of, particularly with the difficulties of producing an independent schedule. However, it’s not the toughest in the history of the state. That would be the University of Utah’s schedule — this year.
Utah certainly has its toughest schedule in history with nine teams that finished last season ranked in the top 44 in the nation, according to USA Today’s Sagarin final rankings.
The Utes will have a tough schedule every year just by playing nine games in the competitive Pac-12. But this year, the Utes’ league schedule has turned much tougher than their first two years in the league because the two best teams in the conference — Oregon and Stanford — have replaced Cal and Washington, who are picked for the lower half of the North Division, on the Utes’ schedule.
So the Utes will play the top six teams in the league this year according to the preseason poll as well as an improving Arizona. The only two league games in which they’ll likely be favored will be against Colorado and Washington State, the last two weeks of the season.
It’s not just me saying Utah’s schedule is superior to BYU’s
Phil Steele, who has published a national college football preview for 18 years, has Utah’s schedule ranked No. 11 and BYU’s No. 49. The website, College Football Universe, which bases its schedule strength on preseason rankings, puts Utah’s schedule at No. 5 and BYU at 42. A website called 4Down20.com puts the schools closer with Utah at 14 and BYU at 22, while SI.com, which goes strictly on 2012 records for its rankings, has Utah at 18 and BYU at 26.
Of course we really won’t know exactly how tough anyone’s schedule is until after the season is over in January. Some highly touted teams will turn out to be lousy, while some of the projected lousy teams may rise up and be decent.
As long as we’re talking about schedules, here are a few more tidbits about the local teams' schedules to chew on before the rapidly approaching season:
— While Utah doesn’t play any games east of Tucson, Ariz., BYU will face opponents from nine different states and eight different conferences, from all regions of the country. You’ve got Virginia from the East, Georgia Tech from the South, Notre Dame and Wisconsin from the Midwest, Texas and Houston from the Southwest and Boise State and Nevada from the West.
It’s also noteworthy that BYU has no teams from California on its 2013 slate, for the first time since 1997, back when the WAC was split into those silly quads and BYU didn’t get San Diego State and Fresno State for two seasons (also 1996). Before that, you have to do back to 1975 to find a BYU schedule with no California opponents.
— Don’t forget Utah State, which, like BYU and Utah, may have its toughest-ever schedule. Not only are the Aggies playing in the Mountain West Conference, which is much better than the leagues USU has competed in for the past 50 years — the PCAA, Big West, Sun Belt and WAC — but the Aggies have three tough non-conference foes in BYU, Utah and USC, in addition to Weber State.
— Because of the way the Big Three’s schedules turned out, there will be consecutive football-less Saturdays on Sept. 28 and Oct. 5 among the state’s three major colleges, something that never used to happen before television ruled college football.
On the first weekend, Utah State plays at San Jose State and BYU plays host to Middle Tennessee State on Friday the 27th and Utah takes the week off.
Then the following weekend, Utah plays host to UCLA on Thursday, Oct. 3, while the Cougars and Aggies meet the following night in the annual LDS Conference weekend Friday game.
However, if you want your Saturday college football fix, you can head up to Ogden to see Weber State host Sacramento State on the 28th and go to Cedar City to see Southern Utah play UC Davis on Oct. 5.
— The week after the two Saturdays-without-games, comes undoubtedly the best Saturday of football the state has ever seen, at least schedule-wise.
On Oct. 12, BYU plays host to Georgia Tech, Utah State is home against Boise State, while Utah will play host to Stanford. Undoubtedly, there’ll be 65,000 in Provo, 45,000 in Salt Lake and 25,000 in Logan that day, a grand total of 135,000 people watching football in the state. It’s a great Saturday of football, just a shame all three games are on the same day.
Alas, the same stadiums will be empty following week with USU going to New Mexico, BYU playing at Houston and Utah heading to Arizona.