The University of Utah kicks off its long, grueling football season with a match against the Wildcats of Weber State, at Rice Eccles Stadium on August 30th. The Utes are heavily favored to win their first contest of the year, based on metrics provided by ESPN and by a lopsided roster for the Utes.
In terms of season-wide implications, this is a game the Utes need to win. Head coach Kyle Whittingham has an outstanding record in non-conference games, going undefeated in the past three years against teams outside the Pac-12. All signs point to a convincing Utah victory, but some interesting developments have been in the works in Utah’s practices.
Injuries and position battles have been the theme of training camp, with battles happening for the left guard, defensive tackle, and surprisingly, kicking specialists. Matt Gay and Mitch Wishnowsky, two award-winning kickers from last year, are seeing some competition among backups Chayden Johnston and Preston Pitt. Starting positions in the special teams are largely secured, but the next iteration is mostly in place. New team captains Chase Hansen, Lo Falemaka, Tyler Huntley, Cody Barton, and the two kickers will help facilitate healthy competition for starting jobs among the young Utah roster.
For Weber State, this game is an opportunity to start the year with an upset. The Wildcats are on the rise after a largely successful 2017 campaign, and will look to continue that road of success this year. Starting quarterback Jake Constantine, only a sophomore, is coming off a red-hot start in his freshman campaign at Ventura College, a junior college known for producing transferrable talent like Constantine. The sophomore will look to start over senior Rathen Ricedorff, who will try and hold onto his starting job as signal-caller for a Wildcat team in the hunt for the top of the Big-Sky Conference.
In terms of matchups in this game, the advantage lies almost entirely with the Utes. Strength of recruiting and simply overall talent will give the Utes a huge advantage in their first match of the season. This is a Utah team that’s looking to end atop the Pac-12 South, and again, this is a game they need to win. The only thing that I feel can hinder them and end in a disastrous upset is overthinking. From every angle, this is a matchup that the Utes should cruise through. ESPN gives Utah a 95.3% chance to win the game and barring a complete collapse, the Utes should end the week 1-0. In my prediction, I called this game as Utah-42, Weber State-10. I’d be surprised if Weber State put up 10 points on last year’s defense, but a huge turnover at key positions might leave some weaknesses or sloppy coverages open for the Wildcats to take.
The Utes should finish this game strong, and look to next week, where they face the Huskies of Northern Illinois.
You can watch Utah play Weber State on Thursday, August 30th, at 6 P.M. on the Pac-12 Networks.