This 2024 Utah football team comes in with high expectations, but they'll do it in a brand new conference after spending just a little over a decade in the Pac-12.

The Utes enter what will be a much-altered Big 12 Conference that has taken on quite the facelift over the last two years. This season, Utah is one of four former Pac-12 members to join the conference, adding to last year's four new schools.

Already, without playing a single game, Utah football is being labeled as the frontrunner to take over the conference in Year 1 of their arrival. Those are pretty lofty expectations, even though the Utes won the Pac-12 title in 2021 and 2022.

Last year, however, suffering through major injuries to players like their veteran quarterback Cam Rising, the Utes took some lumps. They finished 8-5 and fifth in the conference. With Rising and others back, plus some highly touted transfers out of the portal, Utah football is set to rise again, even if it is in the new conference.

But with a new conference comes a new schedule and new challenges. With that said, let's look at a few of the Utes' biggest, toughest games in the 2024 season.

BYU at home – Nov. 9

The return of the Holy War! These two in-state rivals haven't faced off against one another since September 2021. But that game didn't exactly go in the Utes' favor. The Cougars pulled off a rare 26-17 victory. Before that, Utah football had rattled off nine straight wins, one of which included a bowl game. That means the Utes will be itching for this game.

BYU may be picked as the 13th-best team in the conference this year, according to the preseason poll. But when it comes to rivalry games, anything goes.

Arizona at home – Sept. 28

Arizona ended up being the surprise team in not just the Pac-12 last season but in all of college football. In fact, the Wildcats gave the Utes their only back-to-back losses of the season in late November last year. They dominated Utah in that game, beating them 42-18.

But again, this was without a good crop of Utah's most talented players, like Rising. He'll be back this season to hopefully propel the Utes to a victory, this time at home at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Plus, Arizona is now without head coach Jedd Fisch, who is replaced by Brent Brennan.

But the Utah football defense, as good as it usually is, will have to contend with the quarterback-wide receiver duo of Noah Fifita and Tetairoa McMillan, not to mention a stingy Wildcats defense.

At Oklahoma State – Sept. 21

This won't be Utah football's first game in Big 12 play. That will be reserved for Baylor when they host the Bears at home in Week 2. But two weeks later is when the Utes face off against what has been one of the most consistent teams in the conference over the last two decades under head coach Mike Gundy.

Last season, Gundy perhaps pulled off one of his best coaching jobs when he reeled back in his team to finish 10-4 and become runner-up for the Big 12 title. This all occurred after they lost to the Sun Belt's South Alabama earlier in the season.

This should be quite the test for the Utes, who have to go all the way to Stillwater in their first season, one of the toughest places to play in the conference. Gundy's offense, led by last year's best running back in the country, Ollie Gordon II, will undoubtedly challenge the Utes' defense. Good thing Utah had one of the best rushing defenses in the country last season, allowing just over 82 yards per game, according to CFB Stats.