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Utes Announce Home and Home Series with Northern Illinois University

Does the 2018-2019 series tell us something about Utah football and recruiting?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It was announced today that the Utah football team will play the Northern Illinois University Huskies in 2018 (Utah already has a home game against BYU scheduled for 2018 as well) and 2019. The 2018 game will be in Salt Lake City, and Utah will travel to DeKalb, Ill. for the 2019 game.

Northern Illinois, from the Mid-American Conference, finished 12-2 last season, beating Big 10 teams Iowa and Purdue. NIU was knocking on the door of the BCS prior to losing their final regular season game to Bowling Green, then faced Utah State in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. The Huskies dropped the bowl game 14-21 to the Aggies. (You'll remember Utah beat USU 30-26 to start the 2013 season.)

Though it is four years away and a lot can change, Huskie Stadium only has a capacity of 23,595, significantly smaller than Rice-Eccles Stadium. This is an interesting scheduling move, since Illinois is not a state Utah typically recruits. It's possible the game could signal that Utah is planning to recruit the Midwest more intently. They have offered a few players from the Prairie State like Quinn Oseland, a 2015 three-star offensive tackle, and A.J. Epenesa, a 2017 defensive end (who already has offers from Florida State and Oklahoma). Additionally, Jim Harding recruited the Midwest when he was at Wyoming.

With Utah's recent focus of recruiting states like Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, one would think it would make more sense to schedule a home and home with a team from one of those states. Texas offers schools like Southern Methodist University (which is close to Trinity High School where Utah has gotten many players), University of Texas at San Antonio (who plays in the Alamodome, which has a capacity of 65,000), or Houston (who plays in a new 40,000 seat stadium). Louisiana offers Louisiana-Lafayette (36,900 seat stadium), among others. Florida has the University of Central Florida (2013 Fiesta Bowl Champions) and Florida International University (Utah has recruited the Miami area, especially with the Dennis Erickson connection there). Each of these teams would be a relatively easy win for Utah (with only UCF possibly providing any real challenge) since none of them are in a Power Five conference.

What are your thoughts about the future series with NIU, Block U readers?