Inexperience, injuries and a tough Pac-12 schedule caught up with Utah last season. The Utes stumbled after a 4-0 start, losing six of seven, before recovering to reach a fourth straight bowl game and finish 7-6 overall.
This season promises to be a much better one for Utah and head coach Kyle Whittingham. The Utes possess a legitimate shot at winning their first Pac-12 South divisional title. The non-conference slate isn't all that challenging. Then things set up nicely for Utah to make a run as Pac-12 play progresses.
Utah gets most of its toughest league foes at home. Washington, USC, Arizona and Oregon all travel to Salt Lake City. The Utes also close out with four teams over their final five games who did not reach a bowl in 2017.
Utah Utes 2018 Schedule
Bye: Week 4
Week 1 – Aug. 30 vs. Weber State (Salt Lake City)
Former Utah assistant Jay Hill has turned the Wildcats into a legitimate FCS power. Weber State won a school-record 11 games and reached the FCS playoffs quarterfinal round last season. Springing an upset over Utah will still be tough. The Utes have allowed 47 total points in their last six games vs FCS opponents.
Week 2 – Sept. 8 at Northern Illinois (DeKalb, Ill.)
This could offer the Utes a sneaky-good challenge before jumping into Pac-12 play. The Huskies finished as the top defensive team in the MAC last season. They allowed only 338.5 yards and 22.0 points per game. Then again, a low-scoring dogfight plays to Utah's strengths as a football team.
Week 3 – Sept. 15 vs. Washington (Salt Lake City)
Dealing with the one-two punch of Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin is never easy for the Utes. Browning torched Utah for 354 yards and two TD passes in Washington's 33-30 victory a year ago. Gaskin gashed them for 151 yards and a TD on 19 carries in a 31-24 win for the Huskies in 2016.
Week 5 – Sept. 29 at Washington State (Pullman, Wash.)
Mike Leach's Air Raid offense is always a tough matchup for Utah. The Cougars face some rebuilding this year, though, without top playmakers like Luke Falk and Hercules Mata'afa. The Utes have not beaten Washington State since 2012. They lost 33-25 a year ago after coughing up seven turnovers.
Week 6 – Oct. 6 at Stanford (Stanford, Calif.)
Bryce Love's decision to return for his senior season makes Stanford an automatic title contender in the Pac-12 North again. Love tormented defenses throughout his junior campaign, rushing for 2,118 yards while averaging 8.1 yards per carry. Against Utah, Love was bottled up for much of the game but still ran for 152 yards and a touchdown in a 23-20 win over the Utes.
Week 7 – Oct. 12 vs. Arizona (Salt Lake City)
This is one of two straight key games that could decide if Utah can finally claim a Pac-12 South title. The Utes were fortunate to catch the Wildcats before Khalil Tate emerged last season. Tate will make Arizona tougher to deal with this time around. He churned out 1,411 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground last season, while averaging an incredible 9.2 yards per carry.
Week 8 – Oct. 20 vs. USC (Salt Lake City)
Both of USC's last two trips to Rice-Eccles Stadium resulted in the Trojans on the wrong end of a dramatic finish. Utah owns a two-game home winning streak over USC thanks to last-second touchdowns in 2014 and ‘16. The Utes will be facing a Trojans squad trying to replace key offensive playmakers like Sam Darnold and Ronald Jones.
Week 9 – Oct. 26 at UCLA (Los Angeles)
Stopping Utah from running all over the field has turned into a major problem for the Bruins. The Utes have totaled 632 rushing yards against UCLA over the past two seasons. In that stretch, they averaged 6.4 yards per carry. Utah has won three of the last four in the series.
Week 10 – Nov. 3 at Arizona State (Tempe, Ariz.)
A lopsided loss to the Sun Devils was one of the lowest points in a four-game slide that put Utah's bowl hopes in jeopardy last season. Arizona State is a bit of a mystery with new head coach Herm Edwards at the helm. The Utes racked up a school-record 22 tackles for a loss against ASU in their last trip to Tempe two years ago.
Week 11 – Nov. 10 vs. Oregon (Salt Lake City)
The Utes endured one of their worst performances of 2017 when facing a Ducks team without injured quarterback Justin Herbert. It could get dicey for Utah again if Herbert is healthy. He only played eight games last year, but still ended up throwing for 1,983 yards and 15 touchdowns while completing 67.5 percent of his passes.
Week 12 – Nov. 17 at Colorado (Boulder, Colo.)
Zach Moss became a 1,000-yard rusher against the Buffaloes last season, running for a career-high 196 yards and two touchdowns in Utah's 34-13 victory. The Utes have won five of six against Colorado and have good odds to extend the streak. The Buffaloes must replace running back Phillip Lindsay and top receivers Bryce Bobo, Shay Fields and Devin Ross.
Week 13 - Nov. 24 vs. BYU (Salt Lake City)
For the first time since 2010, the Holy War will be played in November. Utah has won seven straight over BYU and the Cougars don't seem poised to end that losing streak this fall. BYU is breaking in a brand-new offense, and dealing with uncertainty at quarterback, while trying to bounce back from a disastrous 4-9 campaign in 2017.
— 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.