As more and more publications begin to try and predict the upcoming college football season, the Utah Utes are finding themselves on Top 10 lists in terms of schedule difficulty. Stanford avoids Utah for a couple years, and thankfully after two inexplicable losses to the Cougars, the Utes will avoid Washington State as well.
The Utah schedule is packed with good teams, including two of the better Mountain West teams in non conference, at Fresno St, and at home vs Utah State. There will be the usual circled games against Pac 12 South teams. With all these big games, one of them seems to stand out from the rest. That game is September 3 when Jim Harbaugh and the Maize and Blue Michigan Wolverines will roll into Salt Lake City.
Utah needs to start well out of the gate. Game one usually draws eye rolls from Ute fans, because the first game is usually involves an Idaho St, Montana St, and other FCS opponents. Fans can recall how games like Texas A&M, Utah State, and Pittsburgh were more exciting, and seemed to be early an indicator how the rest of the season would play out. Kicking off the season with Michigan could go down as the biggest opener of all time. Last season, the Rice-Eccles Stadium attendance record (Cal 2003) was broken when USC came to town. There is a good chance the Michigan game will see a new record crowd.
When Utah signed the home-and-home agreement with the Wolverines, it was obvious that it would have never happened without Utah's Pac 12 Conference affiliation. A type of game that Utah Football, and Ute fans, never imagined it would have been possible. The fact Michigan is playing at Utah is big in itself, but there are a few more factors that add to the immensity of this match up.
Former San Francisco 49ers head man Jim Harbaugh has returned to his alma matter, and no doubt wants to see his team return to the top of the Big 10. The game at Utah will be his first, and the eyes of the country will be on Michigan to see if Harbaugh can replicate what he was able to do at San Diego, Stanford, and the 49ers. He also will draw some ire Utah fans who look at him as the man who gave up on Alex Smith in San Fransisco. Harbaugh is a polarizing figure, and people will be watching to see how he coaches the Wolverines. Even his post game handshakes can be entertaining.
Thursday night is unusual for the Wolverines. In fact, it will be the first time Michigan play a game on a Thursday night. Something that is normal for the Utes, is completely out of the ordinary for the Wolverines. Night games are pretty unusual for Michigan as well, as it has only been since 2011 that lights were installed at Michigan Stadium.
The Utes will be looking to prove themselves. One of those looking for a great game is Devontae Booker. He is looking to burst out on the national stage. This is the perfect opportunity for him to do so. Booker has no doubt been chomping at the bit to get back on the field since he decided to return for his senior season. He's looking not only to break John White IV's record, which he thought he had broke in the Las Vegas Bowl, but came up a handful of yards short. When Kyle Whittingham told him he didn't break the record, "I'm gonna pop that ball," was Booker's response. Even though he wants that record, it isn't what he and the Utes are shooting for; that would be the 2,000 yard mark. Starting off with a good game versus Michigan will go a long way to putting him on that path, and put the eyes of the nation on him. Utah would like to have Heisman voters looking at Booker also.
Another assumption is that one of the national networks is bound to pick up this game. Usually, Utah plays on the Pac 12 Network to start the season. With this type of game, many predict Fox Sports 1 is the likely destination for this game. A couple years ago when Utah and Utah State were the first teams to ever play on the network, the network was scrambling to get deals done with the national carriers. Two years later, FS1 is readily available, and people turning to the fledgling network to view college football is pretty commonplace. If it is indeed on this network, there will be plenty of viewers. If one of the ESPN networks adds it to their schedule, then people will tune in. Either way, the nation will be watching.
The Utes are in for a tough road in 2015. They will need to prove themselves out of the gate, and when September 3 rolls around, RES will be electric. The nation will be watching. Devontae Booker will show the country what he can do. Many Ute fans will be letting Jim Harbaugh know what they think about the Alex Smith benching and trade. Michigan will hear how less than half of the number of people that can fit in their own stadium, can be one of the loudest stadiums in the country on game day.
Bring on the Wolverines.
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