OGDEN — There’s a truth to games like Weber State’s season opener Thursday at Utah.
Most places that take money for sports wagering purposes don’t set lines for FCS vs. FBS games like this. Often, FCS teams schedule such games to earn some money for their program.
Sure, Weber State is ranked No. 8 at the lesser FCS level. But Utah is a fully established, power-conference FBS team sitting just outside its top 25. Games like this aren’t supposed to be competitive.
But returning from last season are many Wildcats who took a 20-17 lead into the fourth quarter at California and went on to win 11 games.
“Once the ball is kicked off, it’s football and I expect our guys to go out there and play hard and match their toughness,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said. “If we can get the ball to bounce our way a few times, who knows.”
The Utes seem to return a stronger team than what Cal put on the field last year, starting with the 1-2 punch in the backfield.
Literally. Jersey No. 1, junior quarterback Tyler Huntley, and jersey No. 2, junior running back Zack Moss — former high school teammates in Florida.
Huntley is a dynamic dual-threat presence and Moss is expected to play in the NFL.
“They’re everything the hype says they are,” Hill said.
Huntley started 10 games last season, throwing for 2,411 yards, 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions with a completion percentage of 63.8. He also rushed for 537 yards and six touchdowns.
“Huntley is fabulous running the ball. He’s got a great arm, too, and is accurate. He’s very dangerous when he pulls the ball down and all of the sudden he’s running or throwing,” Hill said.
Moss is a 5-foot-10, 215-pound freight train who rushed for 1,173 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Hill, simply put, said he’s “a big, strong, physical guy who sees the hole well.”
Those two will factor in much of Utah’s offensive success while a group of new receivers gain experience.
Oh, and there’s the usual Kyle Whittingham defense, led by all-conference talents like Layton High alumnus Julian Blackmon at defensive back.
“They’re going to be tough and disciplined,” Hill said. “They’re going to blitz you and give you multiple looks and make you beat their disguises and try to figure out what’s going on.”
Weber State will be breaking in new quarterback Kaden Jenks and a new offense under playcaller Dave Schramm. He’s known for a run-oriented offense with short throw options that free up quarterbacks to make big throws.
The Wildcats will need their experienced offensive line, senior Treshawn Garrett at running back and playmaker Rashid Shaheed at receiver to make big plays to keep pace.
“We know what Dave likes to do and he’s an excellent coach,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “I’m sure they’ve got some new wrinkles we haven’t seen yet.”
Defensively, Weber State and Utah will look very similar with four down linemen and man coverage in the secondary.
Expectations for Utah seem to be winning the Pac-12 South Division this season, which, if it comes to fruition, might mean putting the Utes one win away from the CFB Playoff.
“From everything I hear, this is the best team they’ve had maybe ever,” Hill said, “so we definitely know we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
The game kicks off at 6 p.m. Thursday and will air on Pac-12 Network. A Weber State radio call will air on 1430 AM KLO with Steve Klauke on play by play and Jerry Graybeal as a color commentator. A Utah radio call will air on ESPN 700 AM with Bill Riley and Scott Mitchell on the call.