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For Utah football, a short week, then a schedule change — and a date with the rising Colorado Buffaloes

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Colorado Buffaloes safety Mark Perry (5) stops Utah Utes tight end Brant Kuithe (80) short of the end zone, in PAC-12 football action between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium last season. This year, the Utes travel to Boulder to play Colorado, and the Buffaloes are unbeaten.

As the Pac-12 has made 10 a.m. MT football kickoffs a possibility this fall, University of Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, and his athletic director, Mark Harlan, have had their hands raised for such an opportunity.

Whittingham and Harlan have received their wish.

The Pac-12 announced Wednesday afternoon that Utah-Colorado, originally a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on Friday night with a Fox Sports 1 broadcast, has been moved to Saturday morning. The game will air nationally on FOX with a 10 a.m. kickoff, meaning the Pac-12 will have a piece of the coveted noon ET window.

Utah and Colorado moving to a FOX broadcast on Saturday morning was facilitated by the fact that the original game in that slot, Ohio State-Michigan, was canceled on Tuesday due to the Wolverines dealing with a program-wide COVID-19 outbreak.

“As willing as you could possibly be,” Whittingham said in early-October. “Whatever the maximum willingness level is, that’s where we’re at. It doesn’t bother us a bit. Our opinion has always been as soon as we can get on the field, the better. It provides no advantage for either team. They’re both kicking off at the same time, so we’ve always been strong proponents here, at least our staff and players, let’s play as soon as we can. That wouldn’t bother us a bit, and we would take as many of those as they offer to us.”

Saturday will mark the second 10 a.m. kickoff of the Pac-12 season. On Nov. 7, the league made a splash on its opening day when it had USC and Arizona State contest a key early-season matchup at 9 a.m. PT at the LA Coliseum.

Early-morning Pac-12 kickoffs have been a topic of conversation going back to at least July 2019 when league commissioner Larry Scott broached it during Pac-12 Media Days. Whittingham has been on board, but from Harlan’s bigger-picture viewpoint as someone running a Power Five athletic department, he believes such an opportunity could help push Utah’s brand forward.

UTAH AT NO. 21 COLORADO

When • Saturday, 10 a.m. MST

TV • FOX-13

The Utes have only been in the Pac-12 for a decade. The football program didn’t legitimately begin challenging for a conference title until 2015 when it shared the Pac-12 South crown with USC. They went to the Pac-12 championship game for the first time in 2018, then followed that up last season by going back to the title game, while spending much of the season in the national conversation as a College Football Playoff contender.

“If the window comes open to us, as Kyle has said, he and I had a long talk about it, we just felt it made a lot of sense this year, whether we’re home or on the road, to try it,” Harlan told The Oregonian’s John Canzano Oct. 1 on the latter’s Portland-based radio show. “We love the window, we love the national exposure, students really love playing on that stage. There’s a lot of reasons to do it.”

Adding an extra wrinkle to the situation is the fact that Colorado, by any measurement, has been the surprise of the Pac-12, with first-year head coach Karl Dorrell the odds-on favorite for the league’s Coach of the Year award.

Voted by the media to finish fifth in the six-team Pac-12 South, the 21st-ranked Buffaloes (4-0, 3-0 Pac-12) are in the awkward position of potentially finishing the regular season undefeated, but not even winning their division and advancing to the Dec. 18 Pac-12 championship game. If Colorado beats Utah and USC (4-0) beats UCLA on Saturday at the Rose Bowl, the Trojans would have the tiebreaker over the Buffaloes and would win the South by virtue of having a better record in games played within the division.

The fact Colorado could finish unbeaten and not win its division has been a point of emphasis this week across the Pac-12 landscape, especially given the fact that the Nov. 28 USC-Colorado in Los Angeles was canceled because the Torjans were dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. Essentially, USC may win the Pac-12 South with its own virus outbreak having oddly benefitted it in terms of the standings.

Be that as it may, Colorado can only control what it can control, which is Saturday and Utah. The big matchup there is expected to be the Utes’ defensive front trying to slow down Buffaloes running back Jarek Broussard. The redshirt sophomore is coming off a career-high 301 yards on just 25 carries last week in a 24-13 win over Arizona in Tucson.

Utah had its streak of holding seven consecutive regular-season opponents under 100 yards rushing vs. Oregon State, but the Utes remain the Pac-12′s best team at stopping the run. Through three games, Utah is yielding just 104.7 rushing yards per game, the fewest in the Pac-12 by nearly 30 yards.

“Colorado is a good football, they’re 4-0, they’re 4-0 for a reason, and it’s not happenstance,” Whittingham said. “They’ve played good football and they have a lot of good things going for them.”

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