Finally, it's here! In just a few hours, Utah football will kick off its 2007 season and we'll either be treated to a great win, or another opening season loss. Hopefully it's the former, but who really knows at this point.
The start of college football has turned into an amazing event. One filled with pageantry, hype and anticipation that rivals Christmas morning when you were a child. Nothing can quite beat that moment you turn the corner, spotting the lit Christmas tree with a plethora of gifts underneath. Well unless you're Jewish, then it's the pencil packs and notebooks slightly tucked under the menorah. But for college football fans, the eagerness of watching the players prepare for the opening kickoff comes close.
In a few hours, Utah will take the field in Corvallis, preparing for that kickoff. Brian Johnson will ready himself for his first start in a year and a half, while Kyle Whittingham will look for a successful start to his third season with Utah. Then with a simple kick, the 2007 season will begin, no more hype and no more predictions, just football. Utah will either win, or they will lose and a season will slowly begin to take its shape.
I'm not so sure this is the most important game for Kyle Whittingham, because Utah can still lose and have a decent season, but it could turn out to be the biggest victory of his career up to this point. A win against an Oregon State team coming off a 10-win season would do wonders for the confidence not only in this team, but in Coach Whittingham's ability to lead. If Utah wins, his ability to defeat a decent Pacific Ten team on the road might prove he's the long term coach Utah needs. A victory tonight will nearly erase all the doubt Utah fans had the past two years. And while a loss won't solidify those doubts, it will add more to them.
I've gone over this game in my head the past few weeks, not knowing what to expect. I can see a loss just as much as I can see a win, because this team has not proven to me they can win a game like this. But on the flipside, Whittingham has given me just enough hope to not concede losing tonight. Whatever the outcome, I do expect a close game, that could come down to the final possession.
So how can Utah win? Well on paper, it isn't as big of a long shot as some might believe. Utah matches up well with Oregon State, especially with the fact the Beavers are inexperienced on offense and have some big questions on defense. But the biggest positive for Utah is the fact Oregon State struggled immensely last year against the spread offense.
The following teams run a variation of the spread offense and actually had success against the Beavers, especially when compared to those teams that do not run the spread.
Now while the Beavers were 3-1 against teams that run the spread offense, every win was by less than a touchdown and they gave up 30 or more points 3 of the 4 games they played. In the 8 other games, Oregon State gave up 30 only twice, to Cal and USC. Clearly they had trouble defending that style of offense, which should help Utah tonight.
The Beavers have a good team and they should be favored, since this game is being played at their home. However, the Utes have the weapons to beat them and if they can play to their potential on the offensive end, I expect them to put up points. If their defense struggles, we could be looking at a pretty exciting shootout. Of course, if Brian Johnson struggles and the Utes can't find a running game, the offense might be slower than the drawl of an elderly southerner. Which would clearly favor Oregon State.
Since this is the first game of the season, I really do believe it's impossible to get a feel on what the outcome will be. No one knows how well Brian Johnson will perform, or whether Utah can find a running game -- it's all speculation at this point. Which is why, for my prediction, I'm going to take the easy way out.
If Brian Johnson plays like he did in 2005 and the Utes can find a decent ground game, Utah will win 31-24.
If Brian Johnson has trouble adjusting and the Utes struggle on the ground, Oregon State will win 28-17.