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Kragthorpe: Reasons to watch Utah, BYU, USU football openers

Published August 30, 2012 10:57 am

College football • Ute QBs, WSU's Leach and SUU's Sorensen all will provide some intrigue.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As if the 242-day wait since the last college football game involving a Utah school is not sufficient motivation, here are three compelling reasons to watch Thursday night's season openers in Salt Lake City, Provo and Logan:

Utah's quarterbacking

Any combination of quarterbacks taking the field for the Utes against Northern Colorado had better play just about perfectly, if these guys intend to inspire any confidence in them.

Jordan Wynn has not delivered a fully satisfying performance at Rice-Eccles Stadium since an October 2010 rout of Colorado State. Since then, he's been booed (vs. Texas Christian), benched (vs. BYU), left shaking his head in disgust (vs. Montana State) and sidelined for the season with a shoulder injury (vs. Washington).

Coach Kyle Whittingham's labeled the Utes' passing performance "abysmal" in last season's opener against MSU, after Wynn completed 15 of 23 passes for 101 yards. Utah scored three points in the last 41 minutes of a 27-10 victory.

Technically, Montana State and Northern Colorado both play in the Big Sky Conference. Subjectively, the Bears are not in the same league. That only means the standards are much higher for Utah's offense this time. The Utes have to score on nearly every drive and the quarterbacks need to complete at least 75 percent of their passes to be judged successful.

Any remote sign of a struggle by the Utes against a team that finished 0-11 last season and gave up 50 points to the next-worst Big Sky member will be very difficult to explain.

Mike Leach

By the middle of the third quarter at Rice-Eccles, if not sooner, Ute fans will be turning their minds to the late game in Provo. They'll be interested in what's happening with the visiting Cougars, not just the home team.

Leach and his Washington State team will provide an intriguing case study of what we can expect — how much and how soon — from the Pac-12's new coaches. In particular, the development of the offenses coached by Leach, Arizona State's Todd Graham and Arizona's Rich Rodriguez will have a lot to say about where the Utes finish in the Pac-12 South (they also face UCLA's Jim Mora).

BYU likely will benefit from catching Leach early. His offense should be much further along by November, when the Cougars come to Salt Lake City.

But if BYU's secondary has trouble with Leach's scheme, future opponents such as Utah, Boise State and Utah State will learn how they can exploit it as well.

Brad Sorensen

Southern Utah just might have the best quarterback in the state. The Thunderbirds' trip to Utah State will offer the first in a series of comparisons, because QBs from Utah and BYU will take their turns against the Aggie secondary in the weeks to come.

Opening the season against two Football Bowl Subdivision opponents is all the showcase opportunity Sorensen could want, with a visit to California looming next week. The Thunderbirds ripped UNLV 41-16 in their only appearance against an FBS school in 2011, but that was mostly a function of returning three interceptions for touchdowns. Sorensen completed 16 of 34 passes for 178 yards, with two interceptions.

He'll have to go way beyond that performance level in Logan, if his numbers are going to match up well with those of USU's Chuckie Keeton against SUU and the state's other quarterbacks against the Aggies.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt