Down. Set. Hut. Utah Football is back

Sixty-five days after it was originally supposed to begin its season versus Brigham Young University, it’s go time for Utah football. The Utes begin their quest to defend the Pac-12 South when they host the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday, Nov. 7 at 2 p.m. Of course, the 2020 football season will look nothing like we’ve ever seen before with no fans—not even the band or cheerleaders—allowed into Rice-Eccles Stadium, as the nation continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.

All Utah fans are invited to tune into the first Utah Virtual Huddle on Friday, Nov. 6 at 12:30 p.m. here. Get hyped up with guests ranging from Swoop and the Utah Spirit Team to Bill Riley and his tips to the game. If you miss the live event, watch anytime at the same link.

The truncated season consists of six “regular” season games—five versus the other South Division schools and one against a North Division team (Oregon State)—and one postseason matchup for all the Pac-12 teams based on the conference standings. In the Pac-12 preseason poll, Utah Football is picked to finish third in the South Division, behind USC and Arizona State. The Utes are slated to face the Trojans on Nov. 21 at Rice-Eccles and the Sun Devils the following Saturday in Tempe.

“Our players have done a great job staying focused over the course of the past several months and have worked extremely hard through all of the uncertainty,” Utah Football head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We’re excited that we’ve been given the go-ahead to play football this fall and look forward to getting the season underway.”

Fans will not be allowed at any sporting event held on a Pac-12 campus for the remainder of the year, a decision that will be revisited by the conference in January. This includes men’s basketball, which released its conference schedule on Thursday, and women’s basketball, which has been given the green light to begin its season on Nov. 25. The other traditional fall athletics teams—volleyball, soccer, cross-country—have resumed practicing but will not compete until the spring in alignment with NCAA scheduling for those sports.

We know Utah fans are excited about the game, and miss the community that exists before, during and after kick-off. However, we strongly discourage any fans from tailgating or coming on or near campus the day of the game in any capacity. Right now COVID-19 cases are surging in the Salt Lake valley and the state as a whole. At the University of Utah Hospital, the intensive care units are overtaxed with a high number of coronavirus patients. As a community, everyone needs to do their part to stop the spread of the virus. So, for now, that means cheering on the team from home in a socially distanced manner.

“At every stage of this process, the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff has been our highest priority, and the guidance of medical experts has informed each decision,” athletics director Mark Harlan said. “And I want to thank all of our tremendous fans who have remained so committed through very challenging times. Your support is critical, and we look forward to the day when we are able to gather again and watch our teams compete for the University of Utah.”