Randy Lewis has gone to Utah football games as a season-ticket holder since he was 6.
Safe to say he’s seen most of the big games ever played at Rice-Eccles Stadium (and Rice Stadium and Ute Stadium). So forgive him if he’s a bit amped for the Utes to host Southern California on Thursday.
“It’s hard for me to define the significance of it, to be honest with you,” said Lewis, a Salt Lake City real estate agent and former Crimson Club board member.
Even with both teams struggling, and the Utes likely to enter the week as double-digit underdogs, Utah-USC may be the most anticipated game in school history. Tickets for the sold-out game available last weekend on StubHub ranged from $93 to $1,200 (as opposed to $42 to $325 for the Utah-Cal game three weeks later).
USC has won 11 national championships and appeared in the Rose Bowl 33 times, more than any other team in the country. The Trojans last visited Salt Lake City in 1917, when they beat the Utes 51-0.
For Utah, the matchup against one of the most dominant programs in college football history is just the latest checkpoint in its move from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12.
“In the past it was once every 10 years we’d get a team from a power conference in here,” Lewis said. “Now it’s five times a year.”
Thursday’s showcase matches the Utes (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) and Trojans (3-1, 1-1) in a game that, in the preseason, pundits had circled as having national significance. The Trojans were the preseason No. 1 and Utah was returning a fourth-year starter at quarterback and perhaps the best running back in school history.
However, the loss of Jordan Wynn in Week 2 and the emergence of holes in Utah’s defense have derailed Utah’s hopes of a run at the Pac-12 championship. Meanwhile, USC has not received the prolific offense it anticipated from quarterback Matt Barkley, receiver Robert Woods and former Penn State running back Silas Redd.
The Trojans’ national title hopes took a serious hit when they lost to Stanford on Sept. 15, and they rank sixth in the Pac-12 in total offense and defense.
“The Stanford loss takes some of the luster off the game, I guess you can say from a national perspective,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said last week. “But for us it’s a huge game, as is every week from this point forward in the season.”
Last year, in their first game in the Pac-12, the Utes lost 23-14 after a field goal that would have tied the game was blocked and returned for a USC touchdown.
Utah Athletic Director Chris Hill said the most excited he’s been for a game at Utah was in 2004 against BYU for the Fiesta Bowl, but that Thursday’s game comes close.
“I think people thought USC would be ranked No. 1 and that we would be 4-0,” he said. “That’s what everybody wants, but I think it’s taken very little off the excitement for people.”
USC at Utah
• USC was the AP preseason No. 1 , but its national title hopes were derailed when it lost at Stanford on Sept. 15.
• Utah is 2-2, including losses at Utah State and Arizona State.
• Both teams are coming off a bye.