Repeat after me: It's never too early to look ahead to next year's Utah football schedule.
Utah has watched some major coaching shakeups in the Pac-12 South that it will need to deal with. The Pac-12 didn't look good in bowl season as the Utes were the only team to win their bowl game, so plenty of programs will be looking to put the conference back into College Football Playoff contention.
Here's a way-too-early look at Utah's 2018 schedule.
vs. Weber State, Thursday, Aug. 30
2017 record: 11-3 (7-1 Big Sky)
Weber State isn't the FCS cupcake it once was. Last year it went all the way to the FCS quarterfinals before falling to James Madison. Wildcats head coach Jay Hill is no stranger to Utah's program, as he both played there and was an assistant there before landing his Weber State job. Utah should treat this in-state lower FCS team with caution.
at Northern Illinois, Saturday, Sept. 8
2017 record: 8-5 (6-2 MAC)
Utah's offense can't afford to take NIU's defense lightly with both LB Jawuan Johnson and CB Shawn Lurry back on a team that allowed just 22.0 points per game last season. While the Huskies probably aren't New Year's Six contenders like they were a few years back, a road trip against a good defensive team is never easy.
vs. Washington, Saturday, Sept. 15
2017 record: 10-3 (7-2 Pac-12)
Utah's first conference game is a doozy as the Utes face the Huskies. Utah hung tough with Washington last season before falling 33-30. The problem is Washington returns pretty much everybody, including nine defensive starters and the offensive duo of RB Myles Gaskin and QB Jake Browning. One player who is not coming back is Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Vita Vea. However, Washington wants to make a return to the College Football Playoff, and it has the talent to do just that.
at Washington State, Saturday, Sept. 29
2017 record: 9-4 (6-3 Pac-12)
The Washington State community has been rocked by QB Tyler Hilinski's suicide. You can bet the Cougars will dedicate this season to Hilinski as they bind together and try to move forward. While football is clearly secondary in the wake of this tragedy, head coach Mike Leach will still need to find a new starting quarterback as Luke Falk is off to the pros, particularly since the passing game is at the heart of his offensive style. Washington State has a lot of things to figure out between now and the start of the regular season, and right now football isn't at the top of the list.
at Stanford, Saturday, Oct. 6
2017 record: 9-5 (7-2 Pac-12)
Stanford may not be getting the kind of attention that the resurgent Washington program is, but the Cardinal did win the Pac-12 North last season. QB Keller Chryst is leaving the program after he was replaced as the starter halfway through the season by redshirt freshman KJ Costello. Costello had a solid season despite not being the starter at the beginning as he scored four touchdowns against Notre Dame and had 14 TDs to just four interceptions. But the big name returning at Stanford is RB Bryce Love, who rushed for an astonishing 2,118 yards and 19 touchdowns last year.
vs. Arizona, Friday, Oct. 12
2017 record: 7-6 (5-4 Pac-12)
Rich Rodriguez is out and Kevin Sumlin is in at Arizona, and that's probably not good news for anybody in the Pac-12. Sumlin already has plenty of experience coaching dual-threat QBs, such as Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, which means he's already in a great position with QB Khalil Tate coming back. While Sumlin wasn't quite able to bring Texas A&M into position as an SEC power, he's likely an upgrade compared to Rodriguez and could shake up the balance of power in the Pac-12 South.
vs. USC, Saturday, Oct. 20
2017 record: 11-3 (8-1 Pac-12)
The Trojans must have a bitter taste in their mouth after being on the wrong end of a 24-7 beatdown at the hands of Ohio State in the Cotton Bowl. The defending Pac-12 champions will be hungry to win the league again and reach their loftier goal of bringing national championships back to Los Angeles. They'll have to try without QB Sam Darnold or RB Ronald Jones II as both have decided to leave early for the NFL draft. DE Rasheem Green is also leaving for the big leagues after making 10.0 sacks last season. Teams like USC always have a steady stream of talent flowing in, but the Trojans have plenty of key positions to fill this offseason.
at UCLA, Friday, Oct. 26
2017 record: 6-7 (4-5 Pac-12)
While Jim Mora wasn't able to bring UCLA up as a Pac-12 South powerhouse, Chip Kelly just might be the perfect man for the job. After all, it wasn't too long ago when Kelly was dominating the North at Oregon and competing for national championships. Kelly won't get the benefit of QB Josh Rosen returning, but we've got a pretty good idea of what's coming based on what the Ducks were under Kelly. Whether he gets it done in one season or it takes a bit longer really is the only question.
at Arizona State, Saturday, Nov. 3
2017 record: 7-6 (6-3 Pac-12)
While some programs in the Pac-12 South are getting clear upgrades at head coach, replacing Todd Graham with Herm Edwards is a bit of a head-scratcher. For one, he's been out of coaching since he was fired from the Kansas City Chiefs back in January of 2009 and has worked as an NFL analyst for ESPN until taking this job. It's been even longer since he's been at a college football program as you have to turn the clock all the way back to 1989 when he was a defensive backs coach for San Jose State. Also, Edwards was supposed to be depending on Graham's previous coordinators, and both of them have bolted for greener pastures. If its possible for a coach to be on the hot seat from the moment he's hired, Edwards just might be.
vs. Oregon, Saturday, Nov. 10
2017 record: 7-6 (4-5 Pac-12)
Mario Cristobal was moved from interim to permanent head coach last month, and he has his work cut out for him after Willie Taggert become a one-and-done coach in Eugene and left for Florida State. So far, Cristobal has done a good job of convincing recruits to come to Oregon even with Taggert gone, including four-star recruits WR Miles Battle and TE Spencer Webb. He's learned from the likes of Nick Saban since his first stint as a head coach at FIU, and you can see how well Saban's disciples have done at programs across the nation.
at Colorado, Saturday, Nov. 17
2017 record: 5-7 (2-7 Pac-12)
We thought the Buffaloes would take a step backward after losing so much of the talent that made 2016 special, and they did. Mike MacIntyre has his work cut out for him. He needs QB Steven Montez to take a step forward after an OK sophomore season of 2,975 yards and 18 touchdowns. He won't have Phillip Lindsay and his 1,474 yards rushing, though. Most of all, Colorado needs to find the dominant defense it had in 2016 and almost completely lost in 2017.
vs. BYU, Saturday, Nov. 24
2017 record: 4-9 (FBS independent)
The Cougars just came out of their worst season in more than half a century. Even being BYU's only Heisman Trophy winner wasn't enough to save Ty Detmer's job as the offense simply couldn't move the ball against even the weakest defenses in the FBS. Former LSU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes has the job of picking up the pieces as the Cougars' new offensive coordinator. Tanner Mangum and Beau Hoge return at QB, but both still have a long road of recovery ahead after both suffered season-ending injuries. It may take more than one season to fix what's wrong in Provo.