This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Freshman quarterback Tyler Huntley impressed Utah co-offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick by thriving on the Rice-Eccles Stadium stage in the annual Red-White Game to conclude spring football practice.
Even against a basic defensive scheme, with few starters playing on either side, Roderick said, "There's some pressure, when there are people out here and you've got to perform."
Well, some people 6,300 fans, by the school's count. That number has become a subject of derision from BYU fans, who point to attendance of 18,000 for the Cougars' session last month. The gap is explained by variables including the weather forecasts, television coverage, the public's prior access to each team and the novelty of BYU's coaching staff.
And then there's the reality that Georgia's spring game attendance was five times bigger than BYU's. The Bulldogs attracted 93,000 fans, which is almost ludicrous. Of course, the crowd was boosted by Ludacris, whose rap concert was part of the proceedings in Athens.
Spring football is a weird phenomenon. Apparently, fan support that we like to think is obsessive around here would qualify only as mild interest in the South and the Midwest. Utahns will respond when the games matter, though. Just watch: Southern Utah will play in front of a combined 100,000-plus fans in Salt Lake City and Provo in 2016, topping the attendance for Ohio State's spring game.
And the Thunderbirds will arrive at good times for Utah and BYU. The Utes will welcome the chance to showcase their improved offense in the season opener against an SUU defense that graduated three NFL draft prospects, and the Cougars will need a break after their rough September-October schedule. My post-spring, regular-season projections for the state's three FBS teams:
Utah State (7-5)
Wins: Weber State, Arkansas State, Air Force, at Colorado State, Fresno State, at Wyoming, New Mexico.
Losses: at USC, at Boise State, San Diego State, at Nevada, at BYU.
The Aggies were overwhelmed by only one opponent, San Diego State, during a 6-7 season. USU's shortcoming was failing to follow through on a win over Boise State by winning a division title in the Mountain West, losing tough games at Air Force and New Mexico.
The losses of linebackers Kyler Fackrell and Nick Vigil will hurt. And in a statewide theme, the Aggies need their receivers to develop. The irony, after all of the quarterbacking injuries USU has experienced the previous three seasons, is that only the Aggies have a definite starter, Kent Myers.
Wins: UCLA, Toledo, at Cincinnati, SUU, UMass, USU.
Losses: Arizona (Glendale, Ariz.), at Utah, West Virginia (Landover, Md.), at Michigan State, Mississippi State, at Boise State.
Evaluating the Cougars is tricky, partly because of the two neutral-site games. Those are both winnable; the issue is how BYU's new offense will perform in the opener vs. Arizona and whether the Cougars can outscore West Virginia. If they win those games, the Cougars will be positioned for a nice year. If they lose them, sustaining belief and confidence will become challenging in coach Kalani Sitake's first season.
With quarterbacks Tanner Mangum and Taysom Hill, the Ty Detmer-coordinated offense will be fun to watch. But the Cougars lack the tight ends that Detmer's scheme needs and Jamaal Williams has not carried the ball in a game since Nov. 1, 2014.
Wins: SUU, BYU, at San Jose State, at California, Arizona, Oregon State, at Arizona State, Oregon, at Colorado.
Losses: USC, at UCLA, Washington.
Some forecasts will make Utah the favorite in the Pac-12 South, and no guaranteed losses exist on the Utes' schedule. Yet until proven otherwise, I'm sticking with the theory that Utah forever will look back at 2015 as its missed opportunity to win the South title, thanks to USC's vulnerability.
The outlook will change if the Utes beat USC in their Pac-12 opener on a Friday night in September, of course. That game will be a great test for a Utah offense that's sure to become more dynamic. Devontae Booker's dependable running will be missed in tough situations, though, as shown by his absence in a haunting loss to UCLA last November.
This program has grown to where the Utes should be in the South conversation every year, but playing in the Pac-12 championship game will require a major breakthrough, whenever that happens.