The Opening Drive: Meet The Utah Utes, The Pluckiest Program In College Football

The #FS1OpeningDrive tour bus has arrived in Salt Lake City for the big game! We have provided almost two weeks of news, commentary, tidbits and whimsy surrounding our tour stops, as we are ready for Michigan vs. Utah, tonight on FOX Sports 1. Get excited.

There's nothing in the world that compares to riding on a tour bus that's dressed up to look like Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. Every time we would veer off at a truck stop in Kearney, Nebraska or Winchester, Virginia, invariably the locals would stare at this egregiously large vehicle adorned in the garb of one of America's most famous coaches.

"Is (Jim) Harbaugh in there?" A truck driver would bellow in my direction after exiting the bus and in need of a bathroom break. "No," I would always reply. "But there are five HarBros."

This is all part of the hype that is Michigan vs. Utah, the official kickoff for Fox Sports and their 2015 college football programming calendar. We, the collective that is HarBros, a robot and yours truly, are a moving college football pep rally. From having former Utah Utes Jordan Gross throw khakis at college students and Jamal Anderson shutting down terrible attempts at the Dirty Bird, to Gus Johnson reliving his Detroit childhood appreciation for Michigan's Anthony Carter, this tour has brought out a spirit in people that I could never imagine.

The culmination of this campaign is the contest between a blue blood program in Michigan and the plucky upstart in Utah that's arguably been better (123 wins versus 119, respectively) since 2000.

No one wants to play the Utah Utes

"I remember when I took Pitt to Salt Lake City on a Thursday night. None of my players had ever been to Utah. Hell, I'd never been to Utah. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, and we got beat by a better team that night." -- Dave Wannstedt, former Pitt Panthers head coach whose team lost to Utah 27-24 back in 2010.

This is the reality of much of the general public, as the state of Utah is viewed with general curiosity and flat out ignorance by a great majority of people. The Mormon community, ski resorts and the NBA's Utah Jazz franchise are what immediately comes to mind. When you get here, you realize that Salt Lake City and the communities that surround the crown jewel of the state, are just football loving people like the rest of America.

"We have a great football team," says Daniel Canada, a University of Utah graduate student riding the train wearing a black Utes fitted cap and a beard that a lumberjack could be proud of. "We know how good they are, and one day, the rest of the world will wake up and see what we've always seen."

The rest of the world should be aware by now, but if they aren't, let's all remember the following:

  • 2001: Then-head coach Ron McBride's swan song was in Utah's 10-6 Las Vegas Bowl victory over a USC team that featured future Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer and current Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll.
  • 2003-04: The Urban Meyer era put everyone on notice, which included two straight Mountain West Conference titles and a 2005 Fiesta Bowl win over Pitt. With Alex Smith under center, the Utes went 22-2 and became the first player from a college in the state of Utah to ever be drafted first.
  • 2008: Current head coach Kyle Whittingham found a way to one-up Urban Meyer's 12-0 campaign in 2004 with a 13-0 season in 2008. Moreover, Utah's defeat over Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2009 Sugar Bowl proved to the world that they probably should've been in the national championship game over a 1-loss Florida Gators team that was coached by... Urban Meyer.

In reality, the Utah Utes and their fanbase have every right to feel flat out disrespected.

Their program's resume looks flat out better than Michigan's over the last 15 years, they beat Michigan in Ann Arbor 26-10 during a lightning storm, Las Vegas has the Utes as 3-point favorites over Michigan, and they're serving as hosts for a college football nation that will get another chance to see what type of raucous environment Rice-Eccles Stadium can be on a Thursday night...

...and yet everyone's here to talk about Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines.

This is how you earn the title of being the pluckiest program in college football. Even if you have a darkhorse Heisman candidate in tailback Devontae Booker. Even if Popular Mechanics, of all publications, decided to call Utah 'a cupcake' on Michigan's schedule. Even if they are a sleeper pick to win the Pac-12 Conference title. People are still ready and willing to overlook this program.

Fans of the program are okay with you continuing to overlook them, they all seem ready with a witty retort that can make anyone chuckle. "I can't wait for Michigan to show up on Thursday night," said Canada. "This is just another opportunity to put a notch on our bedpost. Word to (Utah Utes' alum) Steve Smith."

The Schedule

August 22: Detroit/Ann Arbor
August 23: Chicago
August 24: Cincinnati
August 25: Columbus
August 26: New York
August 27: Charlotte
August 28-29: Atlanta
August 30: Dallas
August 31: Muskogee
September 1: St. Louis
September 2-3: Salt Lake City

The tour is complete. Use the hashtag #FS1OpeningDrive and follow us on Twitter at @edthesportsfan, @yardbarker and @FoxSports1 for more updates on the tour, as we prepare for Michigan vs. Utah, tonight on FOX Sports 1.

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