SALT LAKE CITY — The 10-game conference-only schedule is set, players have reported to campus to begin fall practices, and the first poll of the season has Utah squeaking in as one of the Top 25 programs entering a wild and unpredictable 2020 football season.
The Utes checked in at No. 20 in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll, a more than beneficial spot considering all the talent the program lost to the NFL and to graduation after one of the program’s best seasons in program history last year. Utah finished the season ranked No. 16 in the final Coaches Poll following an 11-3 season.
Utah will be forced to retool nearly an entire defensive unit, while trying to reproduce the high-level efficiency of former starting quarterback Tyler Huntley and the school’s all-time leading rusher Zack Moss. But voters believe the Utes at least have a shot of being one of the best teams in the country despite the rebuild.
The 2020 schedule opens up well for the Utes, with five winnable games, though Utah will be forced to start the season with back-to-back road contests. Utah opens up the season against Washington State in Pullman, Washington, and follows that up with a road contest against Colorado.
Oregon and USC join Utah in the preseason poll, with the reigning Pac-12 champions, Oregon, claiming the top spot in the conference and No. 9. USC, a favorite to come out of the South Division, opens the season at No. 17. Arizona State, which is expected to have a strong season with Jayden Daniels at quarterback, is one of five other programs from the conference receiving votes.
The poll ranks Clemson No. 1 overall as it continues to dominate the college football landscape. Behind the Tigers is Ohio State at No. 2, Alabama at No. 3, Georgia at No. 4 and LSU, the reigning NCAA National Champs, at No. 5.
The Associated Press Top 25 poll, of which I am a voter again, will be released later this month. The poll was expected to be released on Aug. 17 but was delayed as a result of the college football season being pushed back.
On Thursday, the ACC released its 11-game schedule that includes 10 conference games plus one nonconference opponent — joining only the Big Ten and Pac-12 as the only Power Five conferences to release amended schedules so far. Notre Dame, which is an independent program, joins the ACC for the 2020 season and will compete for a conference championship.
The Big 12 and SEC have yet to release a schedule for their member institutions, but the Big 12 plans to entertain a 10-game season that includes nine conference games plus one nonconference, while the SEC will play a 10-game, conference-only slate.