Preseason poll shows just how tough Utes football schedule will be
We've been through those familiar preseason football rituals: spring camp, award watch lists, media days. Now, with preseason national rankings, we've reached perhaps the most anticipated ritual of all. And it spells out just how tough the road will be for Utah football this year.
The Amway coaches' poll was revealed Thursday morning, and the Pac-12 has a whopping six top-25 teams: No. 4 Oregon, No. 7 UCLA, No. 11 Stanford, No. 15 USC, No. 18 Arizona State and No. 25 Washington.
Here's a thought for Utah fans: Not only do the Utes play five of those teams, they play the five highest-ranked ones in a conference play stretch from Oct. 4 to Nov. 15, with only a road game at Oregon State breaking up all those top-25 squads. Three of those games are on the road, including at UCLA and at Stanford.
This is probably what ESPN had in mind when it ranked the Utes' schedule as the toughest in the country last week.
It's worth bringing up that it seems unlikely that six ranked teams in the conference will all make it to the finish line in the top 25.
The bottom three teams in particular could be vulnerable, each for their own reasons. USC has about 65 players on scholarship, giving them a razor-thin margin for injuries as they face Fresno State, Stanford and Boston College in their first three games. Arizona State kicks off with a load of new starters on defense and will likely have to rely on its overpowering attack. Washington lost many of its explosive playmakers from last fall and is adjusting to a new coaching staff.
Oregon, UCLA and Stanford, however, are poised to remain in the top 25 barring collapse, and it seems likely that one of those three will vie for a spot in the college football playoff. As always, the league's greatest hurdle to get to the playoff is its own depth: Each of those three plays each other this year. UCLA gets the advantage of getting both the Ducks and the Cardinal at the Rose Bowl, but its conceivable that each of the elite powers takes a loss between those three games.
It's not news that the Utes will have to be a spoiler this year to even make it to a bowl, but seeing the rankings laid out plainly emphasizes the challenge they face. Without at least one win over the five ranked teams, their chances of getting to six wins look ... rough.
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon