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What Utes Fans Have To Be Thankful For In 2020

The Utah Utes and USC Trojans compete without fans in attendance at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The year 2020 has been a difficult year for everyone and college athletics is no different.

The whirlwind of the college football season to the uncertainty of the basketball season and everything in between, it’s been a difficult year for Utah fans.

Fans suffered through the heartbreaking end to the 2019 season that saw the Utes’ College Football Playoff hopes collapse right before their eyes in the Pac-12 Championship game against Oregon and ending the 11-win season with a loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

The expectations for a rebuild season in football was put on hold due to COVID-19 and even more delayed when the Pac-12 season started in early November.

Despite all of the things listed above, Utah fans have plenty to be thankful for regarding their favorite college team in Salt Lake City.

Football Games Are (Finally) Being Played

It wasn’t looking like Utah was going to be able to play football in the fall of 2020. The Pac-12 first eliminated non-conference games and had a 10-game schedule. Then they pulled the plug on that season and postponed all sports until at least January 2021. Once the Big Ten decided to restart their season in October, the Pac-12 followed.

The revamped and abbreviated Pac-12 season started on November 7, but the Utes couldn’t get going because of COVID-19, leaving disappointment around the facility and among the fanbase. With hopes of facing UCLA in Week 2, players, coaches and fans were left once again disappointed as Utah was forced to cancel the game just over 24 hours before kickoff.

After facing USC last Saturday, it was a relief for fans (and media) to finally watch the 2020 Utes play football.

Browsing through Twitter daily during this process, I am constantly reminded of how much the fans miss being at Rice-Eccles Stadium. In all my years covering Utah football, I realized what the fans mean to this program (I knew it was a lot before). Being at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday for the USC game and not seeing fans piling in and the MUSS jumping on third down was very strange.

In 2020, I am sure that fans would rather not attend games than not have games being played at all.

Stadium Expansion

Needed changes at Rice-Eccles Stadium are happening right now as the renovations will be complete before the 2021 season. The south end zone, which included the locker rooms were demolished during the stretch that the Pac-12 postponed the 2020 season until January. Now, the Utes are playing games with the construction going on and no locker room for either team.

The stadium held approximately 45,800 before the project took place. When it is completed, Rice-Eccles Stadium will hold 51,000 fans. That means 5,200 more fans will be able to attend Utah football games every year.

The Bright Future Of Utah Football

Going into the 2020 season with all of the young pieces that were added to the roster, we knew that Utah was going to have a bright future. After watching the USC game (twice), fans should be even more excited about what’s ahead for the program. The defense lost nine starters from 2019 and seven of them were drafted into the NFL.

The quarterback talent coming into the program is really good. With the NCAA freezing eligibility because of the pandemic, all of the players that are playing this season can return in 2021 and not lose any eligibility. This season is a free year to get these young players quality experience.

Picture this for 2022 or 2023, Van Fillinger, Xavier Carlton on the edges. Clark Phillips III, Nate Ritchie, JaTravis Broughton in the secondary. Sione Fotu, Ethan Calvert and many other key pieces anchoring Utah’s defense? Not to mention the talent on offense. That’s going to be a special team.

Talented Pieces In Basketball

The 2019-20 Runnin’ Utes featured the second-most newcomers in the country. Larry Krystkowiak brings back nearly every player from last season and added key pieces in recruiting.

Utah could be back in the NCAA Tournament within the next two years especially with frozen eligibility. Fans should look forward to watching Rylan Jones, Timmy Allen, Alfonso Plummer, Riley Battin, Mikael Jantunen, Branden Carlson, Jaxon Brenchley, Pelle Larsson, Ian Martinez and many others.

Now is the time for Utah to start making a push for a Pac-12 Championship.

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASportsYou can download and listen to the podcast, here.

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