Kyle Whittingham hasn't been able to coax Utah into a winning record in either of their two seasons in the Pac-12 after the team ran through the MWC so many times. This probably isn't the season, but his squad looks to improve on a 5-7 season with a bowl berth.
The Utes return quarterback Travis Wilson after he performed competently in his freshman season, but they need to replace back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher John White. Luckily, they return seven starters from an above-average defense that held opponents to 25.1 points per game last year.
Six wins don't pop out when running down a conference slate that's wicked up until the finish. Here's a look at who the Utes play:
2013 Utah schedule
Projections from Football Outsiders' 2013 college football almanac.
Things start out hard for the Utes and finish easy. Utah's obligation to play both FBS squads in its state, Utah State and BYU, leaves it with one of the toughest non-conference schedules of any team in the Pac-12. Last year, the Aggies won in overtime, their first victory against the Utes since 1997, snapping a 12-game Utah win streak. The Utes will seek their revenge in a Thursday night season-opener in Salt Lake City, a rivalry game on the first college football evening of the season. They'll look to pick up another win against BYU in Week 4, but they'll have to do it in Provo.
The game against Utah State isn't the only feature matchup the Utes get to host: UCLA comes into Salt Lake on a Thursday night in November, their first divisional matchup. The Muss will presumably be rocking for some weeknight football.
The Utes drew the short-end of the stick in terms of cross-divisional conference matchups. In 2012, the Utes got two of their three conference wins against squads from the other side of the division, going just 1-4 against teams from the South. They retain Washington State after drubbing the Cougars 49-6 last year, but swap out Cal and Washington for Stanford and Oregon, two teams that figure to be among the toughest in the nation. For a team that's going to scrap for every win, two next-to-unwinnable games isn't helpful. The Pac-12 schedulers had some mercy on Utah, giving them five home games against four road matchups.
The Pac-12 slate could be a struggle for the Utes as they look to have their first winning record in Pac-12 play, but at least it finishes nice and easy, with Washington State and Colorado, both likely wins.