Can Utah adjust to no longer being the underdog? The Utes enter the 2019 season as a clear favorite to repeat as Pac-12 South champions. Many key playmakers return on both sides of the ball, led by quarterback Tyler Huntley, running back Zack Moss, and receiver Britain Covey.
Huntley, Moss, and Covey all suffered season-ending injuries down the stretch a year ago. Utah's offense ran as smooth as a new car engine when these players were at full strength. They should shine under new offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who is returning for his second stint under head coach Kyle Whittingham. Ludwig served as OC from 2005-08.
The schedule sets up well for Utah to make another title run. The Utes have a pair of tough road games at USC and Washington, but will host five Pac-12 opponents in Salt Lake City this fall. They also drop Oregon and Stanford off the schedule in favor of Oregon State and California.
Utah Utes 2019 Schedule
Byes: Week 6, Week 11
Week 1 — Aug. 29 at BYU (Provo, Utah)
Utah is riding an eight-game winning streak in the Holy War after rallying for a 35-27 victory over BYU in November. The Utes overcame a 20-point, third-quarter deficit and scored the game's final 28 points. If sophomore QB Zach Wilson is 100 percent healthy following offseason shoulder surgery, Utah could face a serious challenge from the Cougars once again.
Week 2 — Sept. 7 vs. Northern Illinois (Salt Lake City)
The Huskies battled Utah deep into the fourth quarter a year ago until a pick-six from Chase Hansen sealed a 17-6 victory for the Utes. With Northern Illinois breaking in a new coaching staff, and Utah returning the bulk of its defensive standouts, pulling off an upset may be even tougher for the Huskies in the rematch.
Week 3 — Sept. 14 vs. Idaho State (Salt Lake City)
Utah hasn't lost to a current Big Sky team since 1993. The Utes haven't been seriously challenged by a team from that league since joining the Pac-12. That trend isn't likely to change against Idaho State. The Bengals are 0-7 against Pac-12 opponents dating back to 2009.
Week 4 — Sept. 20 at USC (Los Angeles)
Can the Utes break through and beat the Trojans in Los Angeles for the first time since joining the Pac-12? USC figures to be Utah's biggest obstacle in repeating as Pac-12 South champions. The Utes had no trouble with the Trojans last season, coasting to a 41-28 victory after Tyler Huntley threw for 341 yards and four touchdowns.
Week 5 — Sept. 28 vs. Washington State (Salt Lake City)
The Cougars will be breaking in a new quarterback after Gardner Minshew led them to one of their best seasons in school history. It may give Utah the window it needs to snap a four-game losing streak in the series. The Utes typically struggle to match up against the Air Raid offense employed by Mike Leach and fell 28-24 a year ago after Minshew burned them for 445 yards and three touchdowns.
Week 7 — Oct. 12 at Oregon State (Corvallis, Ore.)
If there's one opponent who could be more dangerous than they appear on paper, the Beavers fit that description. Utah has won three straight in the series, but these games are typically tight, defensive battles. The Utes have beaten Oregon State in the last three contests by an average margin of 8.7 points while scoring only 25.0 points per game.
Week 8 — Oct. 19 vs. Arizona State (Salt Lake City)
A loss to Arizona State last season served as a rallying point for Utah in its successful run to a divisional title. Can the Utes snap a two-game skid against the Sun Devils? Arizona State will be replacing its starting quarterback and top receiver this season, but Eno Benjamin returns to anchor the backfield. Benjamin is one of the Pac-12's best running backs.
Week 9 — Oct. 26 vs. California (Salt Lake City)
A goal-line stand helped the Bears edge the Utes in 2016 before a two-year series hiatus. Taking revenge won't be a simple thing for Utah. The Utes will face a California team that's taken big strides on defense under head coach Justin Wilcox. It could set the stage for an old-school defensive slugfest in late October.
Week 10 — Nov. 2 at Washington (Seattle)
The Huskies fielded one of the nation's best defenses a year ago and completely stymied Utah's offense during the regular season and again in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Washington faces a rebuild on offense with the departure of both Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin. Still, the Huskies return enough talent and experience to make it tough for the Utes to break a four-game skid in the series.
Week 12 — Nov. 16 vs. UCLA (Salt Lake City)
Stopping the Ute offense has been a problem for the Bruins in recent years. UCLA has lost three straight to Utah and has been outscored 141-72 in those contests. Zack Moss ran all over the Bruins a year ago, racking up 211 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries in a 41-10 victory.
Week 13 — Nov. 23 at Arizona (Tuscon, Ariz.)
Can a healthy Khalil Tate spark a turnaround for the Wildcats? That's the big question heading into the season for Arizona. Utah has owned the series as of late, winning three straight over the Wildcats. The Utes scored the first 35 points in a 42-10 victory last season in which they totaled 495 yards of offense.
Week 14 — Nov. 30 vs. Colorado (Salt Lake City)
The Buffaloes are carving out a new identity founded on physical defensive play under first-year head coach Mel Tucker. It may not be enough to swing the Rumble in the Rockies in Colorado's favor. Utah has won two straight over the Buffaloes by an average of 22.0 points. The Utes have won six of eight in the series since the two schools renewed their rivalry in 2011.
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.