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Kurt Kragthorpe and Kyle Goon
Kurt Kragthorpe and Kyle Goon cover the Pac-12 for The Salt Lake Tribune.

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Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota runs for a touchdown against Colorado in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in Boulder, Colo., on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013. Mariota and the Oregon Ducks are ranked No. 4 nationally in a preseason coaches' poll. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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.

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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.

Ouch.

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 Goon

kgoon@sltrib.com

Twitter: @kylegoon

PAC-12 Links
Links from around the Pac-12
Arizona (Tucson Citizen)
» Rich Rod and players discuss their tough win
» UA football: Report card for Cal game
» UA football coaches, opponents, results since 1899
» UA football: Arizona scores on last play, defeats Cal 49-45

Arizona St. (Arizona Republic)
» Jordan Simone goes from walk-on to playmaker
» How ASU football's commits fared Friday night
» ASU soccer wins its sixth consecutive match
» Colorado State volleyball holds off ASU

California (East Bay Tribune)
» Cal Bears' big night in Arizona ends in nightmare finish
» Local sports digest: Stanford, Cal in water polo showdown
» Cal to release report next week on how to improve athletes' classwork
» Fact box: Cal at Arizona

Colorado (Denver Post)
» Speedy freshman Donovan Lee gives CU Buffs another playmaker
» Colorado coached to avoid coin-toss glitches, MacIntyre says
» Colorado's MacIntyre gratified Buffs practiced hard Monday
» CU Buffs tackle Jeromy Irwin might play vs. Hawaii after concussion

Oregon (The Oregonian)
» Oregon Ducks open up Autzen Stadium doors for Fan Fest: Photo gallery
» Watch Marcus Mariota sling TD passes against Washington State: Video highlights
» Oregon rocks black and yellow, Cougars can stop Ducks: The Oregonian sports top 5
» Royce Freeman starts slow, gains steam in Oregon Ducks' 38-31 win over Washington State

Oregon State (Corvallis Gazette-Times)
» Oregon State roundup (Sept. 19)
» OSU men's basketball: Tinkle says positive steps being made
» Spencer to become new AD at Evansville
» BeaversSalute program gives tickets to military personnel and veterans

Stanford (San Jose Mercury-News)
» Local sports digest: Stanford, Cal in water polo showdown
» Stanford coach David Shaw goes digging
» Cal, Stanford Pac-12 men's basketball schedules announced
» Local sports digest: Stanford's Maverick McNealy ties for medalist honors

UCLA (Los Angeles Daily News)
» UCLA Football Notebook: Running back Malcolm Jones loses appeal for extra season
» COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Improving UCLA has questions to answer during preseason football camp
» COLLEGE FOOTBALL: UCLA's prized recruit Eddie Vanderdoes cleared to play by NCAA after leaving Notre Dame
» Pac-12 Media Day: Eyes on Anthony Barr for UCLA's 2013 hopes

USC (Los Angeles Daily News)
» USC Football Notebook: Marqise Lee's injury not too serious
» USC Football Notebook: QBs Max Wittek, Cody Kessler present dilemma for Trojans coach Lane Kiffin
» USC FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel thinks Trojans might not miss QB Matt Barkley
» USC FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Dion Bailey says it's 'now or never'

Washington (Seattle Times)
» Video: UW's Danny Shelton, John Timu after victory over Georgia State
» Nelson, Meyers win Sundodger titles for Huskies
» Huskies don't appear ready for Pac-12 play
» Huskies weather a dismal first half to run away from Georgia State in the second half, 45-14

Washington State (Spokane Spokesman-Review)
» Video: Xavier Cooper after Oregon
» Video: Connor Halliday after Oregon
» Video: Mike Leach after Oregon
» Final thoughts from the Oregon game



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