So begins the first annual Utah College Football Invitational.
You may want to tune in, because it may never, ever happen again in your lifetimes.
Thanks to schools like Utah and Utah State either changing conferences or making preparations to do so, the chances of the Utes, Aggies, or BYU or Weber State playing each other soon may be 1,000,000 to 1.
The first week features two games of importance, Utah at Utah State and Weber State at BYU.
In a Friday night game, Utah travels to Logan to face Utah State — and former Ute defensive coordinator Gary Andersen — in what should be a thoroughly entertaining contest featuring two teams going in a similar direction, and that’s up.
The Utes are now in their second Pac-12 season, while the Aggies are gearing up to join the Mountain West Conference next season in this, their final year in the Western Athletic Conference.
Utah enters the ESPN2 national cable network telecast as a 10-point favorite according to Vegas oddsmakers — which is high considering the Utes are not the home team.
Utah State is, however, and the Aggies will likely treat this matchup as the most important game they’ve ever played, in front of a crowd decked out in blue.
What makes this matchup interesting is that the two teams couldn’t be any more different on offense. Utah is a smash mouth team that throws in a few wrinkles of the old Spread offense for good measure. Utah State is blatantly a team running out of the Spread offense, something with which Andersen is acutely familiar, having been a part of Urban Meyer’s and current Ute coach Kyle Whittingham’s staffs.
Individually, the Utes are led by bulldozer running back John White while the Aggies are led by shifty Chuckie Keeton, both of whom are regarded as the best players at their positions among the in-state teams.
Defensively, both Utah and Utah State operate out of a 3-4 scheme and use athleticism in its secondaries. Great linebacker play and fast defensive lines utilizing blitz packages from everywhere are key to both teams ‘success – though the Utes are probably further along in terms of talent and depth.
That news probably won’t sit well with a team like BYU — because on defense, the Cougars are just as good as the Utes according to many in the know.
But before the Cougars get their shot at Utah next week they first must get past Weber State this weekend. The Wildcats lost its longtime head coach Ron McBride — the individual who helped push the Wildcats to its current competitive status — to retirement last year, then saw its new coach hire, John L. Smith, leave WSU after just two days for a better job.
Now Weber has an interim coach, Jody Sears, who must re-assemble a team that is veteran but obviously shaken. The Wildcats lost at Fresno State to open the season but were competitive to the end and showed the kind of fight necessary to put up a battle in Provo.
The Cougars are also a veteran team, led by senior Riley Nelson who is its heart and soul. While BYU is not flashy like Utah State or deep like Utah, on paper the Cougars should have little problem dealing with Weber.
However, the one advantage the Wildcats have is their balanced offense, which with a run-heavy attack could cause some problems for the Cougars’ sometimes overzealous defense. The problem for Weber is that BYU rarely, if ever, allows any running back to go over 100 yards and the Wildcats are probably over-matched in most, if not all, phases.
On defense, the obvious edge goes to the Cougars who are a hard-nosed unit like their coach, Bronco Mendenhall.
BYU surprised a lot of people last week by basically pushing Pac-12 member Washington State around and sending Mike Leach back to Pullman a loser.
But it wasn’t just the BYU defense that thrived; its offense impressed too, as Nelson threw for over 280 yards and found a new target in Kaneakua Friel, a burly tight end in the mold of the BYU throwbacks. The Cougs’ running game is still a work in progress but it is highly unlikely that Weber finds an answer to BYU’s newfound explosiveness on offense.
The Cougars’ new offense was precipitated by offensive coordinator Brandon Doman who saw changes needed to be made after last season’s struggles.
And both games this week bring us to the big BYU-Utah game next weekend in Salt Lake City.
In a Holy War that could be closer than some think, the Cougars come into a sold-out Rice-Eccles Stadium with a chip on their shoulder, still smarting from the 54-10 beatdown the Utes put on in Provo last year.
Utah manhandled BYU with a punishing running game and blew open a close game with its massive offensive line and physical presence.
While BYU did its share of smacking Utah in the mouth early on, the Cougars simply could not keep up with the bigger, faster and stronger Utes — but you can be certain that BYU will come to Salt Lake with revenge on its mind — and a little something extra in its heart.
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