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Utah football: Utes prepare for Idaho State in their season opener

The Utah Utes open their season at home against the Idaho State Bengals on Thursday, August 28. Returning quarterback Travis Wilson looks to help improve upon the five-win season for Utah from a year ago.

Stephen Dunn

Idaho State Bengals (0-0) vs. Utah Utes (0-0)

Thursday, August 28, 2014: 7:30 p.m. EST at Rice-Eccles Stadium

After a subpar 5-7 season that was highlighted by a "David vs. Goliath" like upset of the Stanford Cardinal, the Utes are heading into 2014 optimistic that with the return of quarterback Travis Wilson, they can make a push towards a bowl game, if not more.

In his last appearance in 2013, Wilson went 6-for-21 through the air at home against a #23 ranked Arizona State Sun Devil team.  Heading into the fourth quarter, the Utes led 19-7 and appeared to be on the verge of their second significant upset inside the state of Utah on the year.

With just under eighty seconds remaining, Wilson threw his last pass of the season, an interception by now Chicago Bear, Will Sutton.

It has been nearly 10 months since that incident, the effective ending of the Utes' season.  With kickoff on Thursday night against Idaho State, a shot to reveal the team's true potential comes to the forefront.

Although the Utes home opener comes against a team who has Chadron State and Simon Fraser on their schedule for later in the year, opposed to Oregon and UCLA, it will not matter much.  In what is an absolutely stacked schedule, the home opener is about the only game University of Utah fans will be able to hang their hat on.

The last win for the Bengals came all the way back on October 12 at home against Northern Colorado.  Ironically enough, the last Utah win came on November 30 against the University of Colorado.

After the second week of the season last year, the Bengals allowed less than 26 points only once.  If the Utes are to get their one guaranteed victory of the season, they will need to put up points in order to do so.

An additional developing story has been the promotion of Dominique Hatfield to starter at both wide receiver and cornerback.  The sophomore from Los Angeles, California, has four career catches for a total of 84 yards, but is ready to carry a significant burden as the Utes' first two-way player since Eric Weddle in 2006.

It comes as simple math: in 2013, when Travis Wilson did not throw an interception, the Utes were 3-0.  There are the horrific reminders of last year, such as his six interception game against UCLA, 3-for-9 passing for 15 yards against Arizona in a game where the team scored three points, and then finally the concussion that effectively put him on the shelf.

Thankfully, Wilson has made it all the way back.  At the time, the injury was frightening for fans of college football from coast-to-coast that a pre-existing condition might not only end his career, but also potentially put his life in jeopardy.  All summer long, the coaching staff and teammates alike have raved about the maturation process that has occurred to the 6'7", 233-pound quarterback.  With opposing quarterbacks such as Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and Taylor Kelly on the schedule, the Utes will need a leader that can not only put up points, but also not hang his head against some of the sport's elite.

Listed as the starting running back in Week 1 is the Utes' leading rusher from last season, junior running back Bubba Poole.  After having two massive games against both Stanford and Oregon State last season, Poole was the obvious choice to plug-in as the go-to back due to his versatility.  In those games, he rushed for over 100 yards and hauled in over 70 yards through the air.  Where he has struggled is in finding the endzone.  Despite touching the ball 178 times on offense, he leaped into the paint only twice.  In order for Utah to be competitive this season, Poole will have to establish a close, personal relationship with the territory inside the pylons.

Starting the season against a FCS foe serves as a moderate challenge to the Utes, who have to see what they have in live action before they step into the cauldron that is Pac-12 conference play.  Collisions with Fresno State and Michigan are not far off, so establishing who can play, and contribute, will be what all Utes fans will be looking for on Thursday night against Idaho State.