Utah athletic director Chris Hill has made a lot of changes to Utah’s future football schedules in hopes of clearing the way to book some major teams now that the Utes are in a BCS conference.
Score one for him.
The Utes announced Thursday they have signed a home-and-home series with Michigan starting in 2014 with a visit to Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines will serve as Utah’s season-opening opponent in 2015.
The move elevates Utah’s national scheduling in advance of a deal with the Big Ten that will have every Pac-12 member play one game each year against a Big Ten opponent. However, it also restricts Utah’s ability to schedule in-state rival Brigham Young every year.
Utah has traveled twice before to Ann Arbor, including a 25-23 win in 2008 that highlighted the Utes’ undefeated season. They lost 10-7 to Michigan in 2002.
The move would help Utah if it were in a position to participate in the newly announced playoff system, which will begin the first year of the Utah-Michigan series.
“Essentially, deciding those spots is going to be like the basketball committee, and you can’t play three nobodies,” said Tony Barnhart, a college football analyst for CBS Sports. “People are going to be looking at the nonconference schedule, seeing who you played on the road and how you did.”
Scheduling the Wolverines was made possible in April, when the Utes bought their way out of their scheduled road trip to Utah State for $500,000.
“A home-and-home series with Michigan is the kind of opportunity that comes with membership in the Pac-12 conference,” Hill said. “I greatly appreciate coach [Kyle] Whittingham’s willingness to add college football’s winningest program to his already difficult 2014 schedule.”
The Wolverines are just the second Big Ten team to visit Rice-Eccles Stadium. Utah beat the other, Indiana, 40-13 in 2002.
“The game-day atmosphere in Ann Arbor is a special experience for players and fans alike,” Whittingham said. “We also look forward to hosting Michigan in Salt Lake City, allowing the MUSS and all our fans the chance to give the Wolverines a taste of what game day at Rice-Eccles Stadium is all about.”