Even though the team is away from home, fans can still cheer on the football team at Eccles Stadium at a viewing party organized by the SUU Student Programming Board. The viewing party starts at 5:45 p.m. with kickoff scheduled to be at 6:15 p.m.
As for the team, the Thunderbirds will be debuting some new talent along with some returning favorites.
While the starting quarterback for week one has yet to be announced, the Thunderbirds will be in good hands for the 2017 season. Returning starter Patrick Tyler, newcomer quarterback Aaron Zwahlen, and last season’s backup Anthony Catalano each received substantial playing time during the annual SUU Spring Game.
Last year Tyler, a senior from Los Angeles, finished the season throwing for 2,296 yards and 23 touchdowns, against just six interceptions. Zwahlen, a sophomore from Modesto, California, played for the University of Hawaii from 2015 to 2017 before transferring to Southern Utah. In high school ESPN rated Zwahlen as the 11th-best quarterback prospect in the nation and No. 155 overall. As a senior in high school Catalano was awarded BIG VII League and Pac-5 Division Co-MVP honors.
SUU will have to replace some key players this year, with top rushers from the 2016 season Malik Brown and Raysean Pringle along with tight end Steven Wroblewski having moved on. Pringle and Wroblewski are now involved with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts respectively.
Sophomore James Felila from Kerns is the current top prospect to replace Brown and Pringle according to suutbirds.com. Right behind Felila is Janiero Green, a sophomore from Modesto, California. Prior to arriving at SUU, Green was a First Team Junior College All-American at Modesto Junior College.
The most likely candidates to replace Wroblewski are juniors Logan Parker and McCoy Hill. Parker, from South Jordan, came on strong late in the 2016 season, recording 14 receptions for 143 yards and three touchdowns. Hill, from Sandy, came into the 2016 season as the Thunderbird’s starting quarterback before getting hurt early in the season, prompting the move to tight end.
The top returning lettermen for the Thunderbirds are Cameron Chambers, Isaiah Diego-Williams and Ty Rutledge. Chambers, a senior from Dallas, played in seven games last year, but accounted for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Diego-Williams, a sophomore from Los Angeles, recorded 137 yards receiving and one touchdown last year. Rutledge, a senior from St. George, appeared in seven games before getting hurt last year. Also worth noting is the return of linebacker Chinedu Ahanonu, a junior from West Jordan, an All-Big Sky performer before serving an LDS mission in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Ducks are currently looking to bounce back from a rough 2016 season with a 4-8 record, which resulted in the firing of former head coach Mark Helfrich. Willie Taggart will be stepping in instead, his last two head coaching positions also being rebuilding projects. According to USA Today, in four seasons Taggart was able to lead South Florida from a 2-10 record to a 10-2 record and a spot at the Birmingham Bowl last season.
Along with a new head coach, Oregon could have some additional growing pains in the beginning of the season due to the twelve true freshmen listed on the official depth chart, indicating that many inexperienced players will be receiving substantial playing time. The Ducks also had two quarterbacks transfer after the announcement that Justin Herbert, a local sophomore, would be starting. As of now the team still has not determined who Herbert’s backup will be.