The new season has yet to begin for Utah – thatwill happen Thursday night when the Utes host North Dakota – but alreadythere’s been a notable upset in Salt Lake City. Sophomore Tyler Huntley, andnot returning starter Troy Williams or Alabama transfer Cooper Bateman – a pairof seniors – will start at quarterback for Utah.
Coach Kyle Whittingham made the announcement onAug. 21, giving the nod to the athletic Huntley, who attempted seven passes andhad nine rushing attempts in four games last season as a true freshman.Whittingham left the QB decision up to new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor,and the head coach green-lighted the call to go with Florida’s 2015 GatoradeHigh School Player of the Year. “Tyler has a lot of upside,” Whittingham toldreporters last week. “He’s very athletic. It was an intense competition, andthere was little separation. With Tyler’s mobility and with the upside we thinkhe has, that is the direction we went.” Williams, who will still serve as anoffensive captain, will be the primary backup after starting all 13 games forthe Utes last season and finishing fifth in the Pac-12 in passing yards with2,757.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network. LINE: None
ABOUT NORTH DAKOTA (2016: 9-3, 8-0 Big Sky: The Fighting Hawksare the favored in the preseason coaches and media polls to repeat as champs ofthe FCS-level Big Sky Conference after tying Eastern Washington atop thestandings a year ago. That earned coach Bubba Schweigert conference coach of theyear honors, and he’ll have 14 offensive and defensive returning starters towork with in his fourth season. Senior safety Cole Reyes, the Big Sky preseasonDefensive Player of the Year, headlines the crop of returnees while third-yearstarting quarterback Keaton Studsrud and preseason All-Big Sky running backsJohn Santiago and Brady Oliveira lead the offense.
ABOUT UTAH (2016: 9-4, 5-4 Pac-12): Despite owning one ofthe conference’s least-experienced rosters with 10 returning starters, the Uteshave been picked to finish second to No. 4-ranked USC in the South Division. Toget there, though, Utah will have to replace five of its six first- orsecond-team All-Pac 12 selections a season ago, including a pair ofoffensive-line standouts and leading-rusher Joe Williams. The Utes did get ahuge boost last week with the return to practice of 2016 leading tackler and2016 All-Pac 12 honorable-mention safety Chase Hansen, who had been sidelinedfor the first three weeks of camp with an unspecified injury.
1. This will be the first meeting between theteams, but Utah has beaten its last four FCS foes by an average score of 48-5.
2. North Dakota is playing an FBS opponent forthe fourth straight season after falling to 4-8 Bowling Green 27-26 a year ago.
3. Utah junior punter Mitch Wishnowsky is afirst-team Associated Press Preseason All-America selection after the Ray GuyAward winner led the nation in net average last season at 44.6 yards.
PREDICTION: Utah 41, North Dakota 17