After a small tease of a pair of games last Saturday night, the NCAAF regular season kicks off for real on Thursday evening with a whole slew of games on tap. That’ll be followed by another set of games on Friday, a jam-packed Saturday, and single games on Sunday and Monday night.
College Football is back, and our weekends are about to be packed with football as far as the eye can see. That means we have a ton of games to consider each and every week, but we can also narrow the focus down substantially and zero in on the most appealing matchups from a viewing and handicapping perspective.
For Thursday, the last game of the evening to kickoff checks off both of those boxes. The Utah Utes, the #14 team in the nation according to the preseason AP Top 25 poll, will be on the road to take on the BYU Cougars. The Utes are among the favorites to win the Pac-12 this season, and they’re considered a darkhorse to watch for a CFP berth as a result.
This game makes for an interesting opening week test. The Cougars are far from pushovers, and this is a historic rivalry which has seen several competitive games in recent years. Let’s take a look at this contest in full detail, starting with the way the college football betting sites see it.
Utah vs. BYU, 10:15 PM EST, Thursday, August 29, ESPN
Betting odds provided by Sportsbetting.ag
Utah vs. BYU Pick:
Utah opened up with two straight wins, but followed that up with back-to-back losses to Pac-12 rivals Washington and Washington State. That was followed by a four-game winning streak, a span which included a 40-21 road win over Stanford, which entered the game ranked 14th in the country. They closed out the season with three straight wins to take down the Pac-12 South division.
It was a good start to the season for the Cougars. They opened up at 3-1 and pulled off a big 3-point road upset over Wisconsin, a program which was ranked 6th at the time. From there, the team would hit a rough patch and drop four of its next five. They managed to bounce back for two straight wins to bring the record to 6-5.
Utah would be matched up with Washington once again to decide the Pac-12. The game turned into a defensive slugfest, with the Huskies controlling the action and walking off the field with a 10-3 win. The Utes were invited to the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl, where they would fall to Northwestern by a score of 31-20.
For the final game of the regular season, BYU headed to Utah to play the Utes. Utah was favored by 10.5 points at game time, but it turned out to be tighter than that with the Cougars falling by a score of 35-27. BYU was matched up with Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, closing the year out on a high note with a 49-18 victory.
Statistically, these clubs weren’t far apart at all in 2018. Utah had a sizable advantage in the ground game and with run defense, and they did a better job on pressuring signal callers as well. The Utes weren’t very fortunate on the turnover battle last year in comparison to the Cougars.
Utah’s 28.1 points per game ranked 76th in the nation, while BYU’s 27.2 checked in at 79th. The defenses were close as well with the Utes allowing 18.5 points per contest, 16th in the nation, versus 21.7 for the Cougars, which ranked 28th.
Kyle Whittingham returns to lead Utah. The same defensive coordinator is in place, but the team has hired a new OC in Andy Ludwig. He has a good amount of talent to work with on that side of the ball, including RB Zach Moss. Tyler Huntley is back at QB after missing the end of last season to injury. As for the defense, it’s a mix of new faces and returning talent.
Kalani Sitake is back for year four as head coach of BYU, and the major pieces of the coaching staff remain in place. Sophomore Zach Wilson returns to line up behind center. He’ll be working behind an experienced line, but there are questions to answer elsewhere on offense. The defense is also a mix of youth and returnees due to attrition.
Nicknamed the Holy War, this rivalry traces its roots all the way back to 1896. There have been 99 meetings in total, with Utah holding a series edge of 61-34-4. The Utes have been dominating this rivalry in recent years.
They have won the last eight meetings over BYU. Going back to 2000, the edge is 13-5 in favor of Utah. Over the current winning streak for the Utes, seven of the eight games have been decided by eight points or less. The lone exception was a 54-10 blowout win back in 2011. Three of the team’s eight victories on the current run have come by three points or less.
For the last 10 meetings, Utah is up 8-2 with a 7-3 mark against the spread. However, they have only covered in one of the last three wins.
The last six meetings of these two teams have been decided by eight points or less. We should be in for another competitive game on Thursday with Utah favored by six points. The Cougars could improve by a win or two this season, but the Utes have a legitimate chance at double-digit wins and a Pac-12 crown.
We fully expect BYU to make them work for it, but we also like Utah to pull away at the end. We’ll take the Utes minus the points.