246 days. That’s how long it’s been since the Utah Utes’ last game on the football field, defeating the Indiana Hoosiers in the Foster Farms Bowl. Well, they’re back!
Utah football takes on the University of North Dakota in its season-opener tonight at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Ranked 25 in the preseason Coaches’ poll (though left out of the AP rankings), the Utes are heavily favored against its Big Sky opponent. Coach Kyle Whittingham isn’t discounting them completely, explaining, “They are a quality football team and by all means all of our focus is on them and nobody else.”
Fans are looking forward to tonight’s game less because of the matchup and more as a preview of the rest of the season. This is the first start for recently-named quarterback Tyler Huntley, who was selected over last year’s starting quarterback, Troy Williams. Other players to watch include safety Chase Hansen, who is returning from injury this summer, defensive tackles Filipo Mokofisi and Lowell Lotulelei, and defensive end Kylie Fitts. Also keep an eye on the offensive line, led by new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor.
Often overlooked in pre-season polls, Utah football is one of only five programs to be ranked in every College Football Playoff ranking. The team is predicted to fare well overall this season, though it faces some tough matchups when it travels to play Pac-12 foes USC and Washington. The Utes are hoping for a strong lead-in to next week’s rivalry matchup against BYU in Provo.
The Name Game
What would have been a “clash of tribes” was prevented as the University of North Dakota recently underwent a mascot change. In 2015, the former Fighting Sioux became known as the Fighting Hawks in response to an NCAA call to remove derogatory references to Native Americans by its member schools. While the University of Utah is represented by the mascot Swoop, also a hawk, the Ute Tribal Council permits the continued use of the Ute monicker.
New this year, Utah fans have the opportunity to purchase experiences during home football games. These experiences include leading the team onto the field before the game and sitting in the radio booth for a quarter. Visit UtahUtes.com/Experiences to find out more about these experiences.
Tune in to the game at 5:30 tonight on Pac-12 Networks.