Local college football kicks off Thursday when the Utes take on Montana State. Here's a look at 10 games involving Utah teams that could set the tone for their seasons.
The Wildcats will look to surprise people this year in the Big Sky Conference, being picked fifth by the media and sixth by the coaches. They will have no better stage to do it on than in Cheney, Wash., on the red turf against Eastern Washington, the defending FCS National Champions. Ron McBride and company are excited about new quarterback Mike Hoke, who can make plays on the ground and through the air.
Yeah, Utah State probably doesn’t have a chance in this one, but they do have Robert Turbin coming back in the backfield. Meanwhile, Auburn returns only three offensive starters and three defensive starters. Gary Anderson’s team is trending up in his short tenure there and it will be interesting to see how they stack up against the defending national champs.
If the season unfolds the way that Kyle Whittingham and his team hopes it will, this late-season game could have major implications for a potential appearance in the Pac-12 Championship Game. This game represents the last real difficult matchup on the Utes’ schedule, so if they’ve made it this far and they're still in contention, this game in Tucson will be huge.
This game will be in Arlington, Texas, at Cowboy Stadium in TCU’s backyard. BYU has struggled with the Horned Frogs in the recent past and this game may have BCS implications if BYU can pull some upsets early in the season. It will certainly be an exciting matchup to see Jake Heaps line up against the best defense in the nation three years running.
Todd Graham has Pittsburgh fans anticipating nothing less than a Big East Conference Championship in 2011. This game has no conference implications for the Utes, and Pittsburgh will be wanting revenge from last year’s overtime loss and the 2004 Fiesta Bowl embarrassment. This may be their opportunity to get it.
It’s hard to say that a game in September has BCS implications, but if the Cougars win at Ole Miss the week before this game, the Texas game could set the stage for a BCS run for BYU. Texas had a down year last season and many experts are predicting that they will still be rebuilding in 2011, which gives BYU a legitimate chance in Austin.
Everyone is seemingly picking the Sun Devils as the sleepers out of the Pac-12 South Division, and USC cannot play in the postseason this year, which means that the winner of this game could very easily end up in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Before Arizona State suffered a slew of injuries, most experts were picking them to win this game, but now many are picking the Utes.
This game will answer so many questions as the Cougars enter independence for the first time. This game won’t answer the significant questions about BYU’s move into independence, but it will tell us where BYU stands this year. Can they make a BCS run? Can they compete with the SEC speed? Is the Jake Heaps hype Jimmer worthy? All those questions will be answered, at least partially, in Week 1 in Oxford.
Utah could lose this game and still win the South Division, but this game will be viewed as a proving ground for the Utes and for non-AQ programs everywhere, for that matter. If the Utes can make a strong showing in the Coliseum, they will quiet the many doubters. If USC blows Utah out, the pro-BCS noise will be louder than ever.
Yes, this game is in September. Yes, neither team is in the same conference anymore. Yes, Utah could still go to the Rose Bowl even if they lose this game. However, no one cares. The stadium will be as loud as it ever was in November. The fans will be at each other’s throats as much as ever before. This is still a huge rivalry and it always will be. Ute fans are already annoyed at all the Jake Heaps hype and Cougar fans are annoyed at the Ute fans newly found Pac-12 arrogance. Something’s got to give, even if it is in September.