The University of Utah has a chance to be the best team in the Pac-12 South, and the campaign to the top starts today.
The Utah Utes will open their 125th football season at home, hosting the Wildcats of Weber State University. This is the first meeting between the two teams since 2013, and the Utes hold a 4-0 all-time record against the Wildcats. In 2013, the Utes handed the Wildcats a 70-7 defeat. No, I’m not kidding. They were up 49-0 at the half.
The Wildcats are coming off an 11-win season with a championship in the Big Sky Division, a division that has never beaten the Utes in football. The Utes hold a 39-0 record against the entire division.
This game is a given for the Utes, but the real question facing the team heading into the season is, can they handle the hype of potentially being the best in the South?
The Utes have never won the division outright in their time in the Pac-12. Their closest attempt was a tie for first with the University of Southern California (USC) in 2015. This is their best chance to do so as last year’s contenders, USC and Arizona State, had huge turnovers at roster positions. J.T. Daniels will take over as center at USC, and the change from NFL-level talent Sam Darnold puts Utah in the running for the top spot in the South. The only thing that can keep the Utes from taking the division is being unable to handle expectations. The entire sports world knows that Utah should win this game against the Wildcats, and a weak performance in today’s game could negatively impact the team’s aspirations for the season.
In 2016, the Utes opened their season against Southern Utah University, and in a similar situation, the Utes were picked to handle the Thunderbirds. A relatively sub-par performance led to a 24-0 victory. Not a close game by any means, but the Utes have had problems handling inferior teams in the past. Utes fans need not worry about an upset, however. Head coach Kyle Whittingham is 11-2 in season openers, and the Utes are 22-1 in non-conference games and 16-0 in the last five years against teams outside the Pac-12.
The Utes might be concerned about injuries and roster turnover at the start of the year. Standout running back Devonta’e Henry-Cole is out for the year, leaving Zack Moss with most of the workload. The receiving core is stacked, with return superstar Britain Covey starting as the team’s No. 1 wideout.
Tyler Huntley, to no one’s surprise, is the starting quarter back for the Utes. His performance, and whether he can step up and truly take control of the team, will be a deciding factor in how far the Utes take this talented roster over the course of the year. Jason Shelley will be on the field as a backup, after winning the job from freshman recruit Jack Tuttle.
The Utes have incredible potential this season, and it is truly in their hands to take that hype and run with it.
The game can be viewed on the Pac-12 Networks, and kickoff is slated for 6 P.M.