6 takeaways from the Utes’ first Big 12 football schedule

Utah draws BYU, TCU, Arizona and Iowa State at home.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes fans cheer during the game against the Colorado Buffaloes at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023.

Utah’s first Big 12 schedule is officially on the books.

The Utes will play 10 Big 12 teams and six road games in 2024. The schedule’s highlight might be playing BYU at home on Nov. 9. It will be the first matchup in the rivalry since 2021.

There are trips to Utah State, Oklahoma State, Houston, Colorado, UCF and Arizona State. The best home games, outside of BYU, look like Arizona, TCU and Iowa State.

Here are six early thoughts on Utah’s schedule.

Getting BYU early

When Utah moved to the Big 12 last year, most expected the BYU game would be played during rivalry weekend in college football. That is traditionally during Thanksgiving weekend and the last game of the regular season.

The Big 12 put BYU-Utah three weeks earlier, on Nov. 9. The Utes will instead spend rivalry weekend in Orlando playing UCF.

It is an odd choice for a conference that still is developing strong rivalries after the departure of Texas and Oklahoma. BYU-Utah was one of the few ready-made, built-in rivalries that commissioner Brett Yormark had.

The Big 12 only put one of its in-state games on rivalry weekend (Arizona-Arizona State). Even Kansas-Kansas State didn’t make the cut, instead playing on Oct. 26.

It seems like a weird strategy. But at least for Utah fans, the Big 12 didn’t put Colorado during rivalry week as a hangover from the Pac-12 days.

Another note on the BYU game, both teams will get a bye before playing each other. Utah goes to Houston and then rests. BYU goes to UCF before taking a break. It gives a two-week lead up to the game.

The newcomer has to go on the road

Utah got away with playing five road games last year. This year, that won’t be the case.

The Big 12 is giving the Utes five road games and four home games. This is what happens when you are new to the league. It will flip next year (look at BYU).

This road schedule turned out to be a mixed bag of challenging and winnable. There will be difficult trips to Stillwater to play Oklahoma State. The Pokes were just in the Big 12 championship game and return their best player.

Deion Sanders will get Utah in Boulder in November. That will be a test for entirely different reasons.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Colorado Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders runs onto the field ahead of the game against the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023.

With trips to Tempe and Orlando, who knows what to expect? UCF was up and down in its first year in the Big 12, but made a bowl game and is recruiting at a high level. The second year of Kenny Dillingham at Arizona State could see an improved Sun Devils team.

Perhaps the one road game that Utah should relish is Houston. The Cougars were bottom-feeders last year and have a new coach.

It is hard to predict how difficult games will be in January with how much rosters change between now and then. But at face value, Utah’s road schedule is doable.

All of this is forgetting a trip to Logan for the one non-conference road game. It was added last month to make up for the BYU game becoming a conference game. In-state road games are always hard, especially in a rivalry that’s been dormant since 2015.

A path to Arlington

Utah avoided playing Texas Tech, Kansas, Kansas State and West Virginia this year. All of those teams could be near the top of the Big 12 in 2024.

KU, KSU and WVu won nine games a year ago. Tech won seven and is a recruiting well.

Kansas returns one of the best playmakers in the league, Jalon Daniels. West Virginia is headed in the right direction with Neal Brown and Kansas State has a consistent winner (although it lost their quarterback and a key coach).

Of all the teams to avoid, this was a solid group if Utah wants to go to Arlington in December.

An extra conference game, sort of

Utah hosts Baylor for its return game on Sept. 7. It will count as a non-conference game, even though the Bears are in the Big 12.

Since the game was scheduled while Utah was in the Pac-12, the conference allowed the Utes to keep it and not have to schedule two non-conference games this late in the football calendar.

In some ways, that was nice of the Big 12. Scheduling one non-conference game, Utah State, is hard enough less than a year out. But in another way, it means the Utes will essentially be playing 10 Big 12 games instead of nine (even though nine will count in the standings).

Utah running back Jaylon Glover scores a touchdown past Baylor linebacker Brooks Miller in the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Jerry Larson)

Still, Utah should be able to handle it. Last year, it played 11 Power Five games in one year. Going forward, the Big 12 will make every team play a Power Four team in the non-conference.

Home games, where is the gem?

BYU is the game that sticks out in the home schedule. But other than that, where is the gem for season ticket holders?

Last year, Utah had Bo Nix and Oregon come to town. It had Deion Sanders in the building. Florida was the opener.

Now, it is slightly more complicated. Sanders will be a road game. Florida and Oregon aren’t on the schedule.

After BYU, the two games to look for are TCU and Arizona. The Wildcats were going to be picked near the top of the conference. Their head coach left for Washington. But they still have quarterback Noah Fifita and Arizona has talent.

TCU was down last year but is two years removed from a National Championship game. Sonny Dykes will have time to reload his defensive staff and come back with an experienced, young quarterback.

The sleeper might be Iowa State.

The Cyclones became a sneaky good Big 12 team at the end of last season and quarterback Rocco Becht could be among the best passers in the league in 2024. Nov. 23 in Salt Lake will not be a pushover game, especially if the Utes are in contention in the final weeks of the year.

Bye weeks, difficult stretches

Utah’s bye weeks will be after Week 5 and before BYU (Week 8). That is fairly balanced.

The most difficult stretch of road games will be early in the year when the Utes go back-to-back in Logan and Stillwater. One of those is in-state, though, so the amount of miles is shortened. Utah doesn’t play back-to-back road games at any other point.

Utah also avoided some of the longer trips in the new conference. It will not go to West Virginia and Cincinnati (it doesn’t play them). The longest trip is Orlando late in the year. But at least that will be a warm weather game in November.

Full schedule

Game one (Aug. 29): vs. Southern Utah

Game two (Sept. 7): vs. Baylor

Game three (Sept. 14): at Utah State

Game four (Sept. 21): at Oklahoma State

Game five (Sept. 28): vs. Arizona

Game six (Oct. 11/12): at Arizona State

Game seven (Oct. 19): vs. TCU

Game eight (Oct. 26): at Houston

Game nine (Nov. 9): vs. BYU

Game 10 (Nov. 16): at Colorado

Game 11 (Nov. 23) vs. Iowa State

Game 12 (Nov. 30): at UCF