Peavler: Summer breakdown of the Utes' 2014 football schedule (12 items)
With Pac-12 Football Media Day just around the corner, it's time to take a summer look at the University of Utah's 2014 schedule.
And it's a doozy.
The Pac-12 South looks as daunting as ever with teams such as UCLA and USC on the rise. Meanwhile, Utah has to play Pac-12 North powerhouses Oregon and Stanford in back-to-back weeks. Add a trip to the Big House against Michigan, and Utah will play one of the most difficult schedules in the country. In fact, master prognosticator Phil Steele has the Utes at No. 8 in toughest schedules in his 2014 College Football Preview.
Here's a summer breakdown of Utah's 2014 schedule.
Lafe Peavler is a staff sports writer for the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @LafePeavler.
1 of 12. vs. Idaho State, Thursday, Aug. 28
2013 record: 3-9, 1-7 Big Sky Conference
Summer outlook: It's your typical season warmup against an FCS team, and Idaho State is the perfect victim. While head coach Mike Kramer has done some solid things at Eastern Washington and Montana State, he hasn't had much success in Pocatello so far, posting a 6-28 record over three seasons. The Utes need a tune-up game before getting into the brutal schedule to come, and this is one where Utah can work out some kinks early in the season.
2 of 12. vs. Fresno State, Saturday, Sept. 6
2013 record: 11-2, 7-1 Mountain West Conference
Summer outlook: This won't be an easy game against the defending Mountain West Conference champions, but it isn't the most difficult on the slate, either. This would have been a more interesting game if QB Derek Carr was still at Fresno and not playing for the Raiders, but the Utes would do well to not take the Bulldogs lightly. BYU transfer Joshua "Juice" Quezada returns as Fresno State's leading rusher along with Marteze Walker, both of whom combined for 1,416 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. The Bulldogs have some question marks on defense, but it should be plenty aggressive under head coach Tim DeRuyter. This defense made 108 tackles for loss last season. Protecting the quarterback from this relentless attack will be crucial for the Utes. The Utes need this win in order to go to a bowl game, and they should win this one in the friendly confines of Rice-Eccles Stadium.
3 of 12. at Michigan, Saturday, Sept. 20
2013 record: 7-6, 3-5 Big Ten Conference
Summer outlook: The Pac-12 has a long tradition of playing Big Ten teams, so it's no surprise the Utes will travel to the Big House as part of that tradition. Utah launched its special 2008 season with a win at Michigan Stadium. QB Devin Gardner is a dangerous dual-threat quarterback with 2,960 yards and 21 touchdowns to go with 483 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing. However, the Michigan offensive line has struggled over the past few seasons. If the Wolverines can put it together on the offensive line, however, it could be a long day for the Utes. That said, this will be a challenging but winnable game for Utah on the road.
4 of 12. vs. Washington State, Saturday, Sept. 27
2013 record: 6-7, 4-5 Pac-12 Conference
Summer outlook: The Utes open Pac-12 play at home against a pass-happy Washington State squad. Connor Halliday is back, and he passed for an incredible 4,597 yards and 34 touchdowns last season. Utah fans will remember his 488 yards and four touchdown game against the Utes last season. WRs Gabe Marks, Dom Williams and River Cracraft are back as well, and they combined for 2,068 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2013. Washington State doesn't have much of a running game as the entire team rushed for just 694 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013. So, Utah needs to find a way to slow down Mike Leech's air raid offense or they lose this game. This is a game the Utes needed to win last year to reach a bowl game, and the same probably holds true in 2014.
5 of 12. at UCLA, Saturday, October 4
2013 record: 10-3, 6-3 Pac-12 Conference
Summer outlook: The Utes are going to have their hands full with Bruin QB Brett Hundley and the UCLA offense. This is a game that Utah should have won last season, but the Utes squandered their opportunity with six turnovers. Now they have to find a way to win at the Rose Bowl against an offense that returns 10 starters. Containing Hundley will be the top priority as he passed for 3,071 yards and 24 touchdowns through the air with 748 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. While UCLA has to replace Anthony Barr at linebacker, it also has a solid secondary returning. The Utes can't be as careless with the ball as they were last season against the Bruins. UCLA is the team to beat in the rising Pac-12 South.