LOS ANGELES — It's the dawn of a new era for University of Utah athletics.
The Utes take their Pac-12 membership to the field for the first time in a league game today against USC at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
It's a contest loaded with storylines and historical significance.
The game has drawn a lot of national attention, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledges, because of a couple of firsts — the Pac-12's inaugural outing and the Utes' initial clash as part of a BCS automatic-qualifying conference.
"I think it's significant in that respect," Whittingham said before downplaying it's overall importance. "But one game doesn't a season make. One game is not going to determine who belongs where or who doesn't belong where."
While Whittingham considers it more of a barometer of where this Utah team is right now, others view it as a statement game of sorts.
"From the way people write and talk about the game, it's really a big game for them because of all the smaller schools rooting for them," USC coach Lane Kiffin told the Los Angeles Times.
It's a pairing nearby Hollywood would appreciate: the underdog newcomers against the most successful program in league history. Bill it as Rocky Balboa versus Apollo Creed on the gridiron.
"To get a chance to go to the Coliseum and play is something that every kid really grows up and hopes for," said Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn, one of 32 Californians on the roster.
It's an opportunity to make a big statement in terms of competing for the Pac-12 South title.
Wynn, however, isn't getting into all that. He just wants the team to go out and play their game.
"Do we need to go out and play like Gods? No, but we need to go out and execute and play a good game to get a win," said the junior starter.
That, he continued, will require not getting stressed or doing anything out of the ordinary.
After last week's 27-10 victory over Montana State, Utah is eager to kick things up a notch in the second game of the season. It's a task that may be easier said than done. USC, the preseason favorites to win the division, is loaded with talent — even if the Trojans squeaked by Minnesota, 19-17 last week.
Quarterback Matt Barkley, fullback/tight end Rhett Ellison, linebacker Chris Galippo, center Khaled Holmes, defensive end Wes Horton, offensive tackle Matt Kalil, safety T.J. McDonald, defensive end Nick Perry and wide receiver Robert Woods are all on preseason watch lists for national awards. Many of them are up for multiple accolades.
The Trojans, though, are playing for pride. NCAA sanctions prevent them from going to the Pac-12 championship game and making a bowl appearance this season.
Kiffin, however, maintains that the players and coaches continue to have a high standard of expectations on the field and "never really set up excuses."
The Utes are taking a business-like approach as well, even though they'll be combating a lot of excitement associated with the challenge.
"As a team we've just to stay clam and not let ourselves get too excited or too low and just kind of go out and play the game at an even keel," Wynn said. "Obviously, there are times for emotion. But you kind of want to stay level and not have too many ups and downs."
Like many of the Utes from California, Wynn knows what lies ahead in the Coliseum.
"I've been to a game there," he said. "I know what the atmosphere will be like and how loud it can get and all that."
Sophomore linebacker Brian Blechen is also well-versed in the situation.
"It's exciting. I grew up going to many USC games. I've seen the atmosphere that the Coliseum provides," he said while mentioning the drums and USC fight song that will be played throughout the game. "It'll get me excited. To go there as the away team will be fun."
As for the game itself, both Whittingham and Kiffin used the term "chess match" in discussing strategy. The teams haven't crossed paths since the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl.
Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow, however, is fresh off a stint at UCLA and may have some valuable insight on the Trojans.
"We just have to do whatever it takes to win," he said.
After months of anticipation and speculation, the Utes are ready to kick things off in the Pac-12. First stop: USC.
"We just want to play them," Cullen said. "We're sick of hearing about it. Alright, let's get on the field with these guys."
Utes on the air
at USC (1-0)
today, 5: 30 p.m.
TV: Versus Radio: 700 AM