Rice-Eccles Stadium has not hosted football in nearly two years. Will the return of a crowd be a factor as University of ...

That factor offers an interesting, albeit likely short-lived, subplot as the 24th-ranked University of Utah opens its season Thursday night vs. Weber State at Rice-Eccles Stadium, whose official capacity is now 51,444 with the completion of the $80 million Ken Garff Red Zone.

Add those players to this season’s freshman class, and that’s a lot of guys who have never played in front of a crowd beyond high school.

The Utes have not played in front of a crowd since the 2019 Alamo Bowl, which drew 60,147 to the Alamodome in San Antonio on New Year’s Eve.

Whittingham said recently that playing in empty stadiums last fall was one of the weirdest experiences of a coaching career that spans more than 30 years, but that weirdness won’t be repeated.

The old capacity of 45,807 was no stranger to getting eclipsed as the appetite for Utes football has only grown as the program has risen to near-annual contention in the Pac-12 South.

“We’re scheduled to have a full house on Thursday, and it’s going to be great to get the fans back,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said.

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