Utes to close with USC, Oregon at Rice-Eccles Stadium as Pac-12 releases 10-game football schedule

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utes sing Utah Man as they celebrate their 45-15 win over the Colorado Buffaloes, in PAC-12 football action at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.

Forget for a moment the beginning of the Pac-12′s freshly released, 10-game, conference-only football schedule.

If the COVID-19 pandemic allows that slate to move into November, the back end for the University of Utah is monstrous.

The Utes, 11-3 last season and the Pac-12 South champions each of the last two seasons, will host USC on Nov. 27 before hosting Oregon on Dec. 5 in what will be a rematch of last season’s Pac-12 championship game, a 37-15 Ducks win. Those are scheduled to be Utah’s final two games before the championship, which is slated for Dec. 19.

Utah, along with the rest of the Pac-12, is penciled in to open this unprecedented, unorthodox season Sept. 26 at Washington State. The Utes are at Colorado on Oct. 3 before their home opener Oct. 10 vs. Oregon State.

“With the unknowns that everyone has been dealing with, it is exciting to see a schedule come to fruition and to be one step closer to getting our student-athletes on the field,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said in a statement. “The No. 1 priority of our program, university and conference is the health and safety of our student-athletes and we will continue to work together to make sure we operate that way in everything we do.”

According to the league’s normal schedule rotation, Utah and Oregon would not have met in 2020. With 10 conference games, the Utes will now play everyone in the Pac-12 with the exception of Stanford.

“There was really no rhyme or reason why it was Oregon over Stanford,” Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said Friday afternoon on a Zoom call with reporters. “We really tried to make the 2020 schedule have no impact on the 2021 schedule, so I don’t believe there will be any impact to what that will be.”

The Pac-12 schedule mirrors a plan the SEC laid out Thursday afternoon: 10 games, two bye weeks and flexibility in the form of backing up the Pac-12 championship game from Dec. 4 to Dec. 19. The two extra weeks will allow for games to be made up if there is an interruption in the schedule.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said Friday on a Zoom call with reporters that the championship game will be played at the home stadium of the higher seed. The league was supposed to begin a two-year hosting rights deal with Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. That pact will now begin in 2021.

The Pac-12 is allowing schools to begin mandatory activities Monday, while training camp can begin Aug. 17. That situation bears watching, however, because not all Pac-12 schools are able to conduct workouts at the moment because of state and local ordinances put in place to combat the coronavirus. For example, California and Arizona, which combine to house half the league, are among the hardest-hit states in the nation in terms of COVID-19 cases.

From a Utah perspective, Harlan confirmed that the plan is to begin mandatory work Monday with training camp to follow on Aug. 17. Over the 40 days between Aug. 17 and their opener on Sept. 26, the Utes will be allowed to practice 25 times.

“It’ll be up to each of our coaches to decide whether they’re starting on the 17th or if they’re starting on a slightly later date and how they want to manage that,” Scott said. “It is our expectation sitting here that all of our programs will be able to start as early as [Aug. 17], but sitting here today, they’re not.”

The release of the football schedule raises one major question of local significance: What will Rice-Eccles Stadium look like on game day? Harlan conceded what everyone already knows, that the 45,807-seat venue will not be full. Crowd-size models are still being worked on, and Harlan indicated a decision on that is coming in the next week or two.

Utah 2020 football schedule

Sept. 26, at Washington State

Oct. 3, at Colorado

Oct. 10, vs. Oregon State

Oct. 16, at UCLA

Oct. 24, bye

Oct. 31, vs. Arizona

Nov. 7, at Arizona State

Nov. 14, vs. Washington

Nov. 21, at Cal

Nov. 27, vs. USC

Dec. 5, vs. Oregon

Dec. 18 or 19: Pac-12 championship game