Continuing with the Q&A theme, here's a second one - this time with Sean Reynolds of SB Nation's Utah blog, Block U.
Sean provides some more insight into Thursday's game. Thanks to both Sean and Dirk for participating in this week's Q&As.
1. What do you think fans are expecting from the 2010 Utah Utes?
Expectations are generally always high in Salt Lake City. It's been that way since Urban Meyer's first season and hasn't changed over the years. This season isn't much different, though some of us concede the difficulty of the schedule could keep the BCS just out of sight. So I'd wager we're mostly expecting ten or so wins, a top-25 finish and maybe contention for the conference crown. However, TCU has established a fantastic program in Fort Worth and they'll be difficult to stop - even though the game is in Salt Lake this year. I think that point, the fact most our tough games (outside of Notre Dame) come at home, has given us a bit of hope that maybe the team can exceed expectations.
Much of that is because the Utes have won seventeen straight at home and you've got to go all the way back to the start of the 2007 season to find their last home loss (which came a week after the Utes lost their quarterback and running back to injury in the season opener). Since that loss, they've been almost unstoppable at home and we kind of expect that to continue into this year. If Utah wins out at home, their two toughest road contests are at Air Force (the last team to win in Salt Lake) and Notre Dame. Those aren't going to be easy games and certainly could derail any talks of perfection. But before we can even get to that point, the team will still have to beat Pitt. Which won't be easy.
2. Head Coach Kyle Whittingham turned down the Tennessee job earlier this season. Do you think he'll eventually leave Utah in the near future or can you see him sticking around long-term? Is he ever mentioned as a potential head coach at BYU, his alma mater?
I think now that Utah is moving to the Pac-10, it's far more unlikely we'll lose Kyle Whittingham to another program. I guess it's possible he accepts a job with a top-level team, but we'll worry about that when one of those jobs opens up.
As for BYU, no worries there. He had an offer to coach them in 2005 and he turned them down for Utah. BYU fans hate Whittingham now because of that and I see no way they could ever accept him as their head coach. I mean, this is a guy who's been at Utah since 1994. Not many head coaches in college football can say they've been with the same football program for 16 years.
3. Sophomore QB Jordan Wynn made few mistakes last year as a true freshman. Do you expect him to be at all rattled in the opener? If he is, do you any scenario barring injury where Whittingham would go to senior Terrance Cain?
I think he'd be more rattled if the game were in Pittsburgh. But the fact it's in front of a partisan crowd should help. Plus, it isn't like this will be his first tough game. As Utah's starter, Wynn has gone up against TCU, BYU and Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl. The only average performance there was against, if you can believe it, BYU and many fans suspect that was because he got his bell rung on the first drive of the game and he never really looked the same the rest of the night.
Utah's offense was not the problem against the Frogs. They scored more points (28) on TCU than any other team (though the defense allowed 55, so...) and Wynn, of course, had a break out performance against Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl.
If Wynn does struggle early, he has a great backfield to rely on with Eddie Wide II and Matt Asiata. Those are two backs that could start at most schools and they'll both be sharing time for the Utes. If things still aren't working out and Wynn is playing atrociously, then I would not be surprised if Whittingham brought in Cain. But I don't think that'll happen.
4. With a new QB in Tino Sunseri, I expect a heavy dose of the running game for Pitt in the opener. How do you think Utah's defensive line will respond? And if Pitt decides to go to the air, how is the secondary?
The defensive line is expected to be one of Utah's strongest points on defense. Sealver Siliga and Dave Kruger, whose brother, Paul, was a beast on the defense for Utah's 2008 season, are very talented players who'll make big plays.
Of course, last year Utah had some iffy games with the run defense. Oregon and TCU specifically had no real trouble moving the ball on them and it cost them at least one game (Utah nearly beat the Ducks in Eugene). Whether that consistency issue is at play in 2010, no one knows. But the line is good. We just hope they're consistently good.
Now as for the secondary, that's the question mark for this year's Utes. They replace a lot of talent there, albeit with some very athletic and quick guys. Kyle Whittingham has made it his mission to turn Utah's defense into a very fast and athletic one and you're going to see that in the secondary. But since it's raw at times, they probably aren't at the level where they can overwhelm in games. Not yet, anyway. But against a team breaking in a new quarterback, who has to do it on the road, I think the Utes are well positioned here.
5. How do you see Thursday's game shaping up?
The worst thing about the first game of the season is not knowing what to expect. You can only go off last year's results and even then, for both teams, a lot has changed. But because it is the first game and rarely do you have a flawless performance that early from either team, I think we'll see a tight contest that comes down to the fourth quarter. With the game being played in Salt Lake City, I've got to go with the Utes. I say they enter the fourth up 28-21 and win the game 35-24.