After University of Memphis pulled out of a contract to play Utah this fall, Ute schedule-makers Marc Amicone and Bruce Woodbury contacted maybe 30 schools that might have a corresponding open date.
Given his choice of the teams that had a date available, Ute football coach Ron McBride wanted the biggest and best — Michigan, at the 107,501-seat Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor known as "the Big House."
"They had an opening. We had an opening," McBride said. "My first choice of the teams we had out there was Michigan," he said by telephone from the recruiting trail Wednesday. "I said, 'Michigan would be ideal for our program.' "
McBride was an assistant coach at Wisconsin of the Big Ten in 1983 and '84, and he well knows what he's getting into.
"It's where football started, and it's a cradle of coaches," McBride said. "In the Big Ten, you always looked forward to playing at Michigan. When I was at Wisconsin, the players were always excited to go down there. Of all the places you played, Michigan was probably the one that was the most exciting to go and play. It will be a great experience for all involved.
"It's a great stadium to play in, a lot of fans, a lot of tradition. It's much more prestigious than anything in the West," McBride said.
Amicone, who did most of the negotiating over the past three weeks, said it wasn't hard to make the Michigan link-up. "They were great to work with. Fabulous," he said of the perennial national power that slipped to 8-4 last season and ended up ranked 20th on both national polls after losing to seventh-ranked Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl. The Wolverines had ranked as highly as sixth this season and have been in the Top 25 in all seven seasons under coach Lloyd Carr. Michigan was 6-2 in the Big Ten.
Amicone said the only discussions between the Utes and Wolverines were about which date to play and if Utah could move its scheduled Sept. 21 game from South Florida so it could instead play at the Big House. South Florida agreed to swap, and a tentative date for that U. game in Tampa is Nov. 9, though that is still being discussed, Amicone said.
"Michigan's big," Amicone said. "We're really excited about it."
"It comes at an ideal time for us, really," said McBride. "We have a nice team coming back, and it's a great opportunity for our program, to play in a great stadium with a lot of history and a lot of tradition. When's the last time Utah played Michigan?"
In football? Never.
"Obviously, it's a great thing for us," said McBride. His team is on the upswing after an upset win in the Las Vegas Bowl on Christmas Day, 10-6 over Southern California of the Pac-10 to complete an 8-4 record, 4-3 in the Mountain West Conference.
The Utes defeated Indiana of the Big 10 on Sept. 22 in Bloomington, 28-26.
Utah also played reasonably well at Oregon, which was ranked No. 7 on Sept. 8, losing 24-10 but being down 16-10 until about the 14-minute mark of the fourth period. Oregon finished the season ranked No. 2 on both major polls. Oregon's 80,000-seat stadium is known as one of the louder ones but pales compared to Michigan.
UM holds the NCAA regular-season single-game and season attendance records and has led national attendance 26 of the last 27 years. It has drawn 100,000-plus for every game for the past 26 years.
"We are pleased that Utah was able to adjust its schedule in order to play us Sept. 21," said Michigan athletic director Bill Martin. "This is a one-year, one-time contract, and it will provide our football team with another quality opponent."
Utah's football schedule won't be completed until likely sometime in February. Amicone said the Utes are attempting to have six home and six away games in a year when 12 games are allowed. It is still looking for another non-league home opponent.
Michigan's 2002 schedule:
Aug. 31 Washington
Sept. 7 Western Michigan
Sept. 14 at Notre Dame
Sept. 21 Utah
Sept. 28 at Illinois
Oct. 12 Penn State
Oct. 19 at Purdue
Oct. 26 Iowa
Nov. 2 Michigan State
Nov. 9 at Minnesota
Nov. 16 Wisconsin
Nov. 23 at Ohio State