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Why Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is a fan of early kickoffs

Utah’s home opener against Northern Illinois set for 11 a.m.

Fans stretch to high-five Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham after the Utes defeated BYU 30-12 in Provo on Aug. 30, 2019.
Fans stretch to high-five Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham after the Utes defeated BYU 30-12 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Friday, Aug. 30, 2019.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has made it clear: he likes early games. The earlier the better, as a matter of fact. As the Utes (1-0) prepare to host Northern Illinois (1-0) Saturday at 11 a.m., he cited not having to sit around all day as his No. 1 reason.

“That is the biggest advantage. You wake up, do pregame meal around 7:45 a.m., and you get going,” Whittingham said. “You don’t have to sit around for hours on end for kickoff. So that is the biggest positive.”

It’s worked out well for Utah. Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the Utes are 7-2 in games that have started at noon (Mountain time) or earlier. This will be their earliest start since a 38-34 win at Colorado in 2014 that also began at 11 a.m.

Morning kickoffs were discussed at Pac-12 Media Day in July as a possible solution to helping the conference gain more national recognition. Whittingham noted that he “would love it” when asked about games beginning at 10 a.m. (Mountain).

“The only thing better than 10 a.m. is 9 a.m. or 8 a.m.,” he said. “The sooner we can get the ball in the air, that’s great.”

Whittingham emphasized that he is 100 percent for it.

“As coaches and players, you want to get up and play right away. Sitting around all day — and as great as our atmosphere is at Rice–Eccles at night games and as electric as that place is — it’s tough to sit around all day waiting to play,” he continued. “Players are champing at the bit, and if we can get some early games — I’m not saying play at 10 a.m. every week — but we wouldn’t mind playing a 10 a.m. game or two every season. We’d see that as a positive.”

Saturday’s game will be the earliest played in Salt Lake City in more than 22 years. Utah dropped a 37-17 decision to BYU on Nov. 23, 1996 in a contest that began at 10:30 a.m.

“We’ve just got to play them when they’re scheduled,” said senior linebacker Francis Bernard. “But the coaching staff is doing a good job.”

The Utes, he explained, have an earlier-than-usual curfew this week to ensure everyone gets their rest before the early kickoff.

“The culture is set. We’re ready,” Bernard said. “We’re ready to adjust to anything and ready for the next game.”

Senior safety Julian Blackmon noted that the Utes faced Colorado last year at 11:30 a.m. in Boulder. They went on to prevail 30-7.

“It’s something that we’re going to have to get used to within this week,” Blackmon said. “They’re going to have us come in earlier throughout the week so that we can get acclimated just to waking up at that early time. So I think it’ll be fine.”

So, too, does senior running back Zack Moss. Like it or not, he knows the team has to be prepared for it.

“I’m just so used to the night games and late games and the kickoffs like that,” Moss said. “But I’ll be ready and this team is definitely going to be ready to go.”

EXTRA POINTS: Utah defeated Northern Illinois 17-6 last season in the first meeting between the teams . . . The Utes have won their last 12 home openers . . . Whittingham said offensive lineman Bamidele Olaseni, a junior college transfer, is still waiting for NCAA clearance to play in games. Academics are not an issue. Eligibility centers around his time growing up in London. Utah’s compliance office is expecting an answer on his status in the next two to three weeks.

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Utah football: Noon or earlier kickoffs in the Pac-12 era

Year Opponent Result Kickoff (MT)
Year Opponent Result Kickoff (MT)
2011 at Pittsburgh Won 26-14 Noon
2011 Georgia Tech (Sun Bowl) Won 37-30 (OT) Noon
2012 at UCLA Lost 21-14 Noon
2013 Weber State Won 70-7 Noon
2013 Colorado Won 24-17 Noon
2014 at Colorado Won 38-34 11 a.m.
2016 Oregon Lost 30-28 Noon
2017 West Virginia (Heart of Dallas Bowl) Won 30-14 11:30 a.m.
2018 at Colorado Won 30-7 11:30 a.m.