Pat Condie hesitated at the question. The 20-year season ticket holder wasn’t particularly sure what to say.
Just how well does she expect the Utes football team do this year?
Utah’s 2014 football schedule
Aug. 28 » vs. Idaho State
Sept. 6 » vs. Fresno State
Sept. 20 » at Michigan
Sept. 27 » vs. Washington State
Oct. 4 » at UCLA
Oct. 16 » at Oregon State
Oct. 25 » vs. USC
Nov. 1 » at Arizona State
Nov. 8 » vs. Oregon
Nov. 15 » at Stanford
Nov. 22 » vs. Arizona
Nov. 29 » at Colorado
"Should I say what I really think?" she said. "I guess I just expect to see improvement."
Condie was one of more than a thousand Utah fans who came to the football program’s first autograph event at the Spencer Eccles football complex on Thursday night. The crowd — exclusively season-ticket holders — walked through the halls of the multi-million-dollar home of the team while getting footballs, posters and hats signed by the Utes and chowing down on ice cream sandwiches on the way out the door.
The line at its longest wound its way through the building and well out the door, a sign that the appetite is still healthy for the Utes.
But even among the most rabid fans, it’s clear the expectations for a big, breakout winning season in the Pac-12 have been tempered by two years of 5-7 records. While an 8-5 debut on the cusp of the championship game in 2011 stoked excitement, seasons since have brought the fanbase down to earth.
"It’s a tough schedule," said Steve Foster, a 26-year season-ticket holder from Sandy, echoing the sentiments of a score of fans interviewed by The Tribune.
The Utes will play a challenging slate again this year, going on the road to Michigan, UCLA and Stanford while hosting USC and Oregon at home. Several fans acknowledged their high hopes for a team competing for the Pac-12 title have dropped a little bit, at least for next fall.
Most said a bowl game — really any bowl game — would be enough of a step in the right direction.
"I’d hate to see [Kyle Whittingham] go, but I think he can get them to a bowl," Kaysville resident Kurt Snider said. "They have the guys who can do it."
For a lot of fans, the event opened a window to a team they root for, but rarely see up close.
Many of the attendees were putting names to faces for the first time, seeing players without their helmets. Also most of those interviewed by the Tribune said it was their first time in the football complex that opened last year: They hadn’t seen the video screens, athlete cafeteria or trophy collection from the games they sat in the stands for.
"We yelled and screamed a lot for those trophies," Taylorsville resident Noel Versteeg said, an hour into his wait to get autographs. "I love this facility so far, I’m just glad they let us in here."
Kenneth Scott and Dres Anderson were two of the fan favorites, as well as Travis Wilson, Bubba Poole and Nate Orchard. Several people mentioned relief at seeing Scott and Wilson, who suffered season-ending injuries last year, looking healthy and posing for selfies.
Jeff Davis of Woods Cross brought his sons, Jacob and Ivan Davis, who are both less than 7 years old. He hoped the experience of meeting players would get his sons more invested in going to games.
"So many people watch the games at home now with HDTV," Davis said. "I want my kids to like going to the stadium. It’s just a cooler experience."
Whittingham sat at the last table in line, shaking hands and taking photos with the people who hope to see him lead their team back to a winning record this fall.
Sometimes that interaction gives a bit of a boost to fans who could use an extra dose of confidence.
"It lets me see that the coaching staff has good kids in the program," Dave Manos said. "It gives you a little something extra to cheer for."
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