A week from today, Utah will be readying itself for a start to the 2007 season. We'll also know just how good these Utes are and whether they can put last season's 8-5 record behind them and start their slow march toward the top of the Mountain West Conference once again. And it all begins Thursday night, on the road, against Oregon State. A road game that will offer Utah challenge and most likely set the tone for the season. So what can we expect? Well based on history, mixed result.
Which is why looking back on past seasons where Utah has opened on the road and their record that year, should give us an indication of what to expect in 2007.
Since 1970, Utah is 5-12 opening on the road and only 1-11 if you exclude Utah State games. That is not a good stat, no matter how you look at it. However, if there is a silver lining, it's the fact the Utes haven't played many opening season games on the road. Since 1993, when Utah football really became a solid team, they've had 7 road openers and of those 7, 5 were against USU. The other two teams are UCLA and Washington State, ironically -- like Oregon State -- from the Pacific Ten Conference. Of course the Utes are 1-1 there, with their most recent loss coming last season in Pasadena.
So does this suggest the Utes are doomed? Well no, because the opportunity of defeating a decent team on the road to start the season has not really presented itself recently. Plus, even though I added them to the list, comparing these Utes to their 70s and 80s counterpart really doesn't work. Utah football, as I've discussed before was really, really, really (and so on) bad in the 70s and 80s.
Now whether or not a win against a team on the road can be linked to a successful season doesn't really show in these numbers. While Utah did finish with 9 or more wins in 1994 and '99 after opening up on the road, they faced opponents that were bad (Wazzu went 3-9 in 1999 and USU went 3-8 in 1994). In seasons where they opened with a loss, Utah went on to finish above .500 five times, including winning 8 games in 1996 and last year. On the flip side, they finished below .500 only six times after losing the first game. The Utes also finished with a losing record in 1990 and 2002, even though they opened the season with wins over Utah State in Logan both years.
What does this tell us then? Well opening the season against Utah State really won't have an impact on Utah no matter what the outcome. That and the Utes will have an uphill battle to climb if they're going to start 2007 out 1-0. It's not going to be easy, but I don't think any Ute fan expected it to be. A win though could mean some good things for the Utes, while a loss probably won't destine them to failure. Which is the most important thing stat we can decipher from these numbers, since Utah isn't favored to win anyway.