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Red All Over: University of Utah football returns in 98 days

Utes open Sept. 2 vs. Weber State at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Teammates celebrate as Utah Utes wide receiver Britain Covey (18) scores a 91-yard touchdown, in PAC-12 football action between the Utes and the Washington State Cougars at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.

This is your late-May, middle-of-the-offseason, not-much-happening-on-the-beat-right-now reminder that the University of Utah kicks off the 2021 football season vs. Weber State in 98 days.

Ninety-eight days until, presumably at this point, a full crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium. More on this topic below.

Assuming Kyle Whittingham doesn’t publicly show all of his cards, 98 days until we see who the next Utes starting quarterback is. If you read last week’s newsletter, you know my thoughts and feelings on the matter.

Ninety-eight days until you’re tailgating. Yeah, you, you, and you. It’s part of the college football experience, and Utes fans do it at a high level, or so I’m told. I’m up for a sausage-and-peppers at someone’s tailgate, just let me know.

Ninety-eight days until the opener is over and Utah fans can zero in on BYU. Not that Utah fans are not already zeroing in on BYU, but you know what I mean.

Ninety-eight days until I’m either pumped for an early-afternoon kickoff, or groaning over a night kickoff. Find me a beat reporter preferring a night kickoff, and I’ll show you one of two things. Either a lunatic, or a young reporter that hasn’t been doing this very long.

Regardless of the kickoff time, bottom line, a game is taking place in 98 days, and after the day-to-day unknowns of the 2020 season, it feels good to type that.

What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise

• There is nothing official, and I have no news to report, but we are clearly headed toward allowing full capacity at Rice-Eccles Stadium this fall. In my estimation, the only way we don’t get there is if the Pac-12 doesn’t allow it. The league will likely have final say on the matter, just like it did last fall when there were no fans allowed at football games.

• Utah will not start the basketball season with 10 scholarship players. No head coach at this level of the sport is willingly going to go with 10, and probably not even 11. Twelve? Sure, 12 happens, but not 10 or 11. One way or another, the Utes are going to add some more pieces.

I covered Grizzlies-Jazz Game 2 Wednesday night at Vivint Arena. People tried to tell me the playoff atmosphere here is big-time. Those people were right. Awesome crowd, great atmosphere.

• The Pac-12 on Tuesday released December men’s basketball matchups and the conference schedule rotation for the next decade. We don’t need to get into the next decade, but the Utes got some good news for 2021-22. They will play UCLA only once next season, and the one will take place at the Huntsman Center. Why is that good news? The Bruins are the likely preseason favorite to win the Pac-12, so only having to play them once, and to do it home, is a perk.

• Sports have been back for a while now, but did Sunday mark sports being BACK? On Sunday, you had a full NBA playoff slate, a full NHL playoff slate and Phil Mickelson winning the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. There were raucous crowds at various NBA and NHL arenas, and an extra-raucous atmosphere as Mickelson made his way up 17 and 18. It all felt normal, like maybe we’re actually coming to the end of this thing.

• You’re starting to see various online sportsbooks come out with O/U for wins for college football teams. I’ve seen Utah at 8.5 in a couple of places, and I think that number is spot-on. On paper, the pessimist in me says 8-4, but with a real opportunity, if things break well, to get to 10-2. Yeah, I think 10-2 is a possibility. I won’t pick that, but I can see it.

Your questions

Q: “What’s one popular TV show that everyone else is in on that you aren’t?” — @AJCrowley42

A: I’ll toss two out there, “Game of Thrones” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm”.

I’ve never seen a second of either, and I have no interest in starting either, especially GoT, which is just too out there, too much fantasy for my liking. Curb is probably right up my alley, so no excuse there.

Conversely, a show that everyone loves that I have never seen, but will start at some point this summer: “Succession”.

Q: “I have seen you post about learning about basketball as a young child and how you came to love it. Besides the Knicks and Patrick Ewing, as you look back, who was the greatest player you saw play in person and what was the greatest team in your opinion?” — Anonymous

A: I saw the Michael Jordan-fueled Bulls play once live as a kid (’92 East semis, Game 4 at MSG), but I was only 9, so too young to truly appreciate it. Technically, Jordan is the greatest player I’ve seen live, but in terms of something I actually remember vividly, it’s LeBron James.

Greatest team I’ve ever seen live that I can actually remember? My knee-jerk answer is those LeBron-Wade-Bosh teams of the early 2010′s. Those groups were the NBA’s answer to The Beatles when they showed up in a road arena.

I’m almost positive I covered the first time that Heat team played the Nets in Brooklyn. As the Heat players filed into the arena, the building was on literal lockdown for a few minutes until everyone was in the locker room.

You don’t see that very often, if ever.

Q: “Who are real Nets fans? I’ve never met one. I really don’t believe they actually exist.” — @coreyc04

A: Well, since we’re in Utah, I don’t suspect you’ve ever met a Nets fan here. It’s not exactly a widespread fan base, even with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden on the roster.

There are Nets fans, but they fall into different categories. There are Nets fans that were Nets fans when they were awful and playing in the swamp up at the Meadowlands. Bless those folks, because there were some very bad teams through the years before Jason Kidd showed up in 2001.

You’ve got Nets fans who became Nets fans when the team became “cool” upon arrival in Brooklyn in 2012. You’ve got Nets fans who used to be Knicks fans, but jumped ship because the franchise has been a dumpster fire for most of the last 20 years. Those people are the absolute worst. You’ve got Brooklyn hipsters who are uninterested in sports entirely, but latched onto the Nets because they’re the “home team” and going to a game at Barclays Center is nothing more than a social gathering.

And yeah, you’ve got Nets fans on the bandwagon now because of Irving, Durant, Harden and the real possibility that a title is coming within the next few seasons.

Circling back to the actual question, are there “real” Nets fans? Yes, but how to define “real” is in the eye of the beholder.

Random musings

• As I started wearing summer clothes, I started finding old masks in pockets. Gee, that’s fun, certainly more fun than finding a rogue $10 bill.

• Are we still pretending that hard seltzer tastes good, because I’m done living that lie.

• A waiter last weekend called me “big guy,” which I genuinely cannot stand. Please, if you ever see me in the wild, don’t call me “big guy.” A lesser person would have stiffed that waiter on the tip, but I’m better than that.

• Any basketball conversation centering around “hunting for fouls” needs to be put out of its misery. A significant part of the game on offense is the ability to ... wait for it ... draw fouls, and Trae Young does it really well, even if it comes off as unsavory.

• There’s been a lot of chatter back east about the Knicks, Nets and the proverbial fight for the soul of New York City. My longstanding two cents: This isn’t a thing until there is a playoff series and either way, the Knicks have been part of the city’s fabric for 75 years. The Nets could win a title, and a huge piece of the basketball focus would still be on what the Knicks plan to do in free agency. I’m not wrong, just take a look at what Knicks fans did after winning a first-round playoff game Wednesday night.

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