SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to trying to predict how the state's Big Five college football programs will fare this season, it really comes down to three key factors.
Yep, it's all about who, where and when — who do you play, where do you play and when do you play ’em?
Those three determining factors can often be the difference between dazzling success and frustrating disappointment.
BYU's got a brutal three-week stretch in September, when it faces three foes — LSU, Utah and Wisconsin — that were all Top-25 teams in 2016. But the Cougars' last six games of the season look like a sure-fire recipe for running the table from mid-October to the end of November.
The University of Utah plays only five road games this year, but two of them are against two of the top teams in the Pac-12 — USC and Washington. And another one's against traditional rival BYU, a team that is determined to end its long losing streak against the Utes.
Utah State's got a midseason string of crucial home games, four of them over a five-week span in the middle of the season — vs. BYU, Colorado State, Wyoming and Boise State — that'll likely decide what kind of year it's gonna be in Logan.
Last year, my preseason prediction on the Aggies missed worse than a badly shanked field goal. I picked them to go 7-5, but they wound up a discouraging 3-9. And it turned into a one-off year on the other four Big Five" schools.
I picked BYU to go 7-5 during the 2016 regular season, and the Cougars went 8-4 before adding a bowl win. My 9-3 prediction on Utah fell a game short at 8-4 (following a 7-1 start), though the Utes did get to nine wins with a bowl victory.
Likewise, I picked Weber State to go 8-3 and the Wildcats wound up 7-4, and Southern Utah bested my 5-6 prediction by going 6-5.
So, at the risk of looking extremely foolish at season's end, here's a Utah college football forecast for 2017:
BYU — After this Saturday's walk-over win against Portland State, the Cougars will face LSU on a neutral field, then host Utah and Wisconsin. That has the makings of a 2-2 start, though 3-1 is certainly not out of the question.
After that, the schedule lightens up, with home games against Boise State, San Jose State, UNLV and UMass, and road games at Utah State, Mississippi State, East Carolina, Fresno State and Hawaii.
It's very conceivable the Cougars could go 9-0 or 8-1 in their last nine games, but winning at Mississippi State and Hawaii will be a challenge.
Still, under second-year head coach Kalani Sitake, happy days are here again in Provo.
Utah — The schedule doesn't do the Utes any favors at all this year, as the who-where-when factor definitely won't work to Utah's advantage for much of the season.
Sure, the Utes will beat Big Sky Conference foe North Dakota, but those road games at BYU, Arizona, USC, Oregon and Washington will be a handful.
And although a home game against San Jose State looks like a gimme, their other home games against Stanford, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington State and Colorado will all be difficult.
Kyle Whittingham should still be able to get the Utes to a bowl game, but this is definitely not going be easy.
Prediction: 7-5 overall, 5-4 Pac-12.
Utah State — After winning 19 games in his first two years as the Aggies' head coach, Matt Wells' teams won just 9 games over the last two years in Logan.
This year's schedule, however, stacks up in such a way that Utah State's success could be restored this season.
Sure, there are tough road games at Wisconsin and Wake Forest, but Idaho State shouldn't offer much resistance at home, and San Jose State, UNLV, New Mexico and Air Force are all beatable on the road.
That key midseason stretch at home against BYU, Colorado State, Wyoming and Boise State will be the deciding factor, and a final home game with Hawaii could be the difference-maker on USU's record.
Prediction: 7-5 overall, 5-3 Mountain West.
Weber State — The Wildcats went to the FCS playoffs and notched their second straight winning season under head coach Jay Hill last year, and they're eager to build on that success this season.
Their first five games should set a winning tone, as only a road game against Cal of the Pac-12 looks the least bit daunting, while home games with Montana Western, UC Davis and Southern Utah and roadies at Sacramento State and Montana State all appear as winnable games that could boost their confidence.
Then it gets tougher. The ’Cats will face three of the Big Sky's top teams — Cal Poly, Montana and Eastern Washington, with two them on the road — in successive weeks before finishing up with a road game at Portland State and a home finale with Idaho State.
Prediction: 8-3 overall, 6-2 Big Sky.
Southern Utah — The Thunderbirds, under second-year head coach Demario Warren, open the season with three tough non-conference games at Pac-12 big duck Oregon, at Stephen F. Austin and at home against Northern Iowa.
After that, it's an all-Big Sky slate with home games against Cal Poly, Eastern Washington, North Dakota and NAU — four of the best teams in the conference — and road games at Sac State, Weber State, Northern Colorado and UC Davis.
The T-Birds' schedule certainly doesn't do ’em any favors, but at least they'll have the home field advantage against four of the Big Sky's powerhouses.
Prediction: 6-5 overall, 5-3 Big Sky.