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Some of Utah's biggest wins in school history have happened on Thursday night.
If anything, the magic of Thursday night has to work in Utah's favor. Throughout the past decade, the Utes are undefeated in those home games - a few that have gone down as the some of the biggest wins in program history.
The magic really began in 2003, Urban Meyer's first year here, when Utah, fresh off a tough loss to Texas A&M, upset Cal in front of the largest crowd in Rice-Eccles history. That game was aired on ESPN and the Utes, behind Alex Smith, rolled to a 31-24 victory ... a contest that saw Aaron Rogers play in his first meaningful minutes as a college football player.
It was an important win for the program because of what had happened the week prior and the fact it came against the Pac-10. Yes, Cal wasn't at the top of their conference at this point, and they still hadn't upset USC (that would come a few weeks later), but the win gave Utah swagger and it's something that really carried with them throughout the remainder of the Urban Meyer era ... and into another non-Saturday night showdown.
Yes, the Oregon Ducks game that season technically came on a Friday, but the same metrics still apply. I guess you could call it weekday magic instead of Thursday night magic, but whatever you want to deem this game, Utah's 17-13 win over 19th ranked Oregon was huge. It was probably the biggest regular season, non-conference victory for the program since McBride and the Utes upended those same Ducks nine-years prior in Eugene. Perfectly, I guess, that season also ended, like '03's, with a 10-2 record.
But that game was a beauty because I think it pointed to just how special Alex Smith was as a quarterback. He threw for a then career-high 340 yards and had two touchdowns delivering the Utes' first win over a ranked opponent since defeating BYU at the end of the 1999 season.
2003 turned out to be one of the best seasons in school history and it really all gained its magic on that Thursday night against Cal. It was a type of swagger, like I said, that just spilled over to the remainder of the Meyer era and helped build a silent confidence I don't think we've ever really seen at Utah since. That's not a knock on Kyle Whittingham, but between 2003 and 2004, there was really no game you ever expected the Utes to lose. You just believed the moment they lined up that they were going to win, and in some instances, win big. Sure, you might have gained that faith in 2008 with Utah, but for almost a solid two years, those Utes felt unbeatable.
It really culminated on Thursday night, September 2nd, 2004 against Texas A&M. Billed as the biggest game in Utah football history, against a program that was only a few seasons removed from winning the Big 12 and very accustom to winning ... ESPN's cameras rolled as the Utes rolled the Aggies 41-21. The dream season in '04 couldn't have started any better for Utah.
That A&M game was the turning point for this program. With everyone watching, some even anticipating maybe they would wilt under the pressure, Utah kicked off their undefeated season in style and would never look back. Not against Arizona or the rest of the Mountain West or the ACC's North Carolina or even Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl.
Even the Kyle Whittingham era began on a weekday, albeit Friday and not Thursday, as Utah defeated Arizona 27-24. Sure, it wasn't the prettiest of wins and the team certainly struggled at times, but it felt good to keep that win streak going against what many thought would be an improving Wildcat team (they really weren't that year).
That season also saw an exciting 38-35 win over Air Fore on Thursday night - a win that came a week after their awful loss to TCU in overtime.
Utah needed that victory against what has always been a historically tough team to play and they got it. Again not the prettiest of victories, but that game turned out to be the difference, really, between 6-5 and 5-6.
Even with the move away from ESPN in 2006, the Utes still found themselves playing some important games on Thursday night. Their first of that season, and I guess only, was against TCU, who a week prior had lost to BYU at home, while Utah had lost to Boise State at home. Neither team could really afford a loss and, with some strong defensive momentum behind them, Utah would give the Frogs only their second defeat of that season. Not bad for an erratic program like the '06 Utes (a week later, they'd lose to Wyoming in Laramie).
In 2007, Utah played three non-Saturday games, but all came on the road and they were 2-1 in those (defeating Louisville and TCU and losing to Oregon State in the opener).
Of course, the season we all remember for Thursday night magic came in 2008. It started with Oregon State, who was coming off an upset of USC the week prior and then ended with TCU in early November ... a win that helped preserve the Utes' undefeated season.
Was it Thursday night magic? I don't know. But Utah hasn't lost a Thursday night home game, or a Friday night home game, for that matter, since Urban Meyer took over. That's a pretty remarkable stretch against some pretty remarkable teams including, as already mentioned, Cal, Oregon, Texas A&M, Arizona, TCU, Oregon State, Pittsburgh and now, this Thursday, USC.
What I do know is that there is nothing quite like a Thursday night game. The crowd seems to be livelier and the atmosphere stronger. I've always loved Thursday night games because some of my best memories as a fan have happened on Thursday night. There is a confidence associated with that day of the week and it's something I really hope continues this year.
The crowd is going to be energetic Thursday. It's going to loud and the fans are going to be pumped, even though this team has struggled a great deal this year. Maybe that's not enough to be the deciding factor, but I hope when that team comes out to a packed stadium (and please, I implore you, get there before kickoff), they'll be fired up and ready to deliver some more Thursday night magic.