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SALT LAKE CITY - The movement into a new conference has led to big changes for the Utah Utes, but the biggest change, and challenge, may end up being a frontloaded schedule to test a new offense and a team going to new places.
The Utes haven't been afraid to schedule teams with big names over the past years. Recently, they were able to play and beat Michigan, Pittsburgh, UCLA and Oregon in the first few weeks of past seasons.
Last year after Utah beat Pitt in overtime they played their next three games against teams with four combined wins all last season. After the Utes beat Michigan as part of their undefeated 2008 season they were able to play an FCS team and a four-win Utah State team.
The Utes will still have a big task in opening weeks, but unlike years in the past they will not be able to take a week off to rest while playing inferior competition.
This year they will be able to bust the myth that non-AQ teams can't face the grind week in and week out of one of the power conferences and they will have to do it fast.
Opening against Montana State may even be a trap game when the following weeks are put into perspective. The next week they travel to the Coliseum to face USC. The week after that they head into the "Holy War" at LaVell Edwards Stadium against BYU.
They will have another potential trap game against an up-and-coming Washington team before they face a highly touted Arizona State team. If BYU beats Texas the week before they play Utah and ASU lives up to potential the Utes could play three ranked teams in their first five games.
The tough early season schedule could be even tougher in years to come when Oregon and Stanford are on the schedule. Both teams are ranked in the top seven of the preseason polls.
The Utes generally don't face a ranked team until the November showdown with TCU. With the exception of Pitt last year it has been over five years since they had to play a ranked team earlier than that.
ESPN blogger Ted Miller lists the USC and ASU games as two of the top games in the Pac-12 this year.
The online publication "The Bleacher Report" has BYU, USC and ASU as the Utes most interesting games of the season. The rest of the season they will only face two teams that finished last year with a winning record.
The Pac-12 will bring some name recognition to Rice-Eccles with teams like UCLA, Oregon St. and Colorado coming late in the season. However, they may not bring great teams into town.
This year may not be the true test of how the Utes will fare long term in the Pac-12, but the first few weeks should create a good barometer for the future.