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Intensity to pick up as 10th-ranked Utah Utes begin their ninth Pac-12 slate

Utah opening on the road at USC.

Utah Utes wide receiver Britain Covey runs for a touchdown against the USC Trojans during NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018.
Utah Utes wide receiver Britain Covey runs for a touchdown against the USC Trojans during NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018.
Ravell Call, Deseret News

LOS ANGELES — Utah kicks off its ninth season in the Pac-12 Friday night at the Coliseum against USC. The Utes, who joined the conference in 2011, have a 34-39 record in league contests.

Pac-12 openers have been especially challenging over the years. Utah’s first contest was a 23-14 setback in L.A. In 2012, the Utes dropped a 37-7 decision at Arizona State. That was followed by losses at Rice-Eccles Stadium to Oregon State (51-48, OT) and Washington State (28-27) in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Utah picked up its first Pac-12 opening victory the following season with a 62-20 decision at Oregon. Wins followed in 2016 and 2017 when the Utes defeated USC (31-27) and Arizona (30-24) in Salt Lake City and Tucson, respectively. Last season, Utah began Pac-12 play with a 21-7 loss at home to Washington.

The Utes, though, went on to win their first outright Pac-12 South title, advancing to the conference championship game where they dropped a 10-3 decision to the Huskies. This year, Utah topped the league’s preseason media poll and have been deemed as favorites to win the crown. USC was picked to finish second in the division.

“It is challenging. They have their pick of the litter down there in southern California which is a fertile recruiting ground. They can basically draw a 30-mile radius around their campus and that is where they recruit for the most part,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who is 3-5 against USC. “I think we held our own. We’ve made progress and we are certainly more equipped to play them now than we were when we entered the league back in 2011.”

Utah receiver Britain Covey noted that the Trojans provide quite a test. The Utes haven’t won a game at USC since 1916. Whittingham joked that anyone can have a bad century.

“Everybody feels the intensity go up because now you’re playing for something,” Covey said of the Pac-12 opener. “It’s almost like the first three games, you get them under your belt — you get a little experience. But by now, there are no excuses.”

Covey added that there should be no penalties or dumb mistakes after nonconference triumphs over BYU, Northern Illinois and Idaho State.

“So the intensity definitely goes up and to start conference play with USC, you know, it’s similar to last year when we started it with Washington.”