The game is already sold out, which isn’t surprising considering BYU’s worldwide fan base. It doesn’t hurt either that both programs are off to their best start in years too — including Kansas picking up its 600th win last week.
After starting the season with two home games for the first time since 2012, the Cougars will play its second consecutive road game after knocking off Arkansas in a thrilling 38-31 victory at Razorback Stadium.
Saturday’s showdown will not only be the Big 12 opener for both BYU and Kansas, but it’s the Cougars’ first official Big 12 game as a member of the conference. For the prior 12 seasons, the Cougars played as an Independent and finished the Independence Era with a record of 99-56. The 99 wins tied for No. 18 in college football during that span. The game will also be BYU’s fifth “first” conference game in its history. The Cougars joined the RMAC in 1922, Skyline in 1938, the WAC in 1962 and the MWC Conference in 1999.
Saturday’s game will be special for the Lassiter family as the have a son playing on both sides: Darius (BYU, WR) and Kwinton (Kansas, DB). The family has strong ties to Kansas as their father played for the Jayhawks prior to an NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers. Darius’s brother, Kwamie II, also played receiver at Kansas.
BYU and Kansas are meeting for just the second time in program history after facing off in the Aloha Bowl in 1992 where the Jayhawks beat the Cougars 23-20. Not only will the Cougars look to get their first Big 12 win, they’ll also be looking to beat the Jayhawks for the first time in program history.
Date: Saturday, September 23
Time: 1:30 p.m. MT
Announcers: Mark Jones, Louis Riddick, Quint Kessenich
Location: David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium (47,233) — Lawrence, Kansas
Kansas 23, BYU 20 (1992)
The Spread: Kansas -9.5
Money Line: Kansas -360, BYU +280
When betting lines first opened, Kansas was a 8.5-point favorite. It dropped to 7 before climbing higher to 9.5. The over/under dropping is 54.5 after climbing as high as 56.5. In regards to the money line, oddsmakers are favoring Kansas at -360. The money line simply involves picking the winning team. With Kansas at -360, those picking the Jayhawks would have to risk $360 to win $100. However, for those picking BYU, one would win $280 for his/her $100 wager.
SP+, a predictive analytics tool created by ESPN’s Bill Connelly, has Kansas and BYU in a tie 30-30. So far this year SP+ is 2-1 in its BYU picks. Bill gives the Cougars a 50% chance of beating the Jayhawks, which is slightly higher than what ESPN’s Football Power Index is giving the Cougars. As of right now, the FPI gives BYU just a 43.4% chance of beating Kansas.
After two cupcake games to open the season, we finally got to know more about the Cougars in the 38-31 road win last week over Arkansas.
For Kansas, it remains to be seen if they are contenders or pretenders in the Big 12 as they have played one of the softest schedules (124th) to start the season. The combined records of Nevada, Illinois and Missouri State is 1-7. In fact, Nevada is on a 13-game losing streak — losing 33-6 to Idaho (FCS) a week before, yet somehow managed to tie the game in the fourth quarter against the Jayhawks. For Kansas fans, that’s a big worry, especially when the team was a 28-point favorite going into the game.
Yes, Kansas is averaging more than 500 yards of total offense so far this season, but let’s not forget about the inferior competition they have been going up against. That being said, Kansas does return a wealth of experience with 17 returning starters, and the most offensive production in the country from a season ago (91%).
Kansas’ biggest strength is its versatility on offense as the Jayhawks are well balanced and are averaging more than 200 yards rushing and nearly 300 yards through the air. If there’s a weakness in the defense, Kansas will find it and exploit it.
It helps having one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the country in Jalon Daniels. The junior, who was named the Big 12 Conference Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, can do it all and is one of the quickest players the Cougars will face all year.
Right beside Daniels is junior running back Devin Neal. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder is the Big 12’s top returning rusher and is on pace to do so again as he’s racked up more than 300 yards rushing (7.6 yards per carry) and five touchdowns on the ground, not to mention 8 receptions for 131 yards and a score.
It will be strength vs. strength as the Cougar defense is allowing less than 100 yards rushing per game. The defensive line caused a lot of havoc this year and continues that against Arkansas as the team had four sacks, six tackles for loss, a forced fumble and an interception.
In fact, BYU is No. 8 in the country in turnover margin per game as the Cougars have seven takeaways so far to go with just one giveaway (INT). The BYU offense has struggled for the most part in moving the ball down the field, but they are efficient in the red zone as the Cougars are 10-for-10 and currently ranked No. 1 in the nation with 9 touchdowns and 1 field goal. That efficiency was on full display as the Cougars scored 38 points on just 281 yards last week thanks to the turnovers forced by the defense which has given the offense great field position.
This is bad new for Kansas as the Jayhawks struggle holding onto the football and BYU has been terrific in creating a lot of turnovers. Kansas has now fumbled in all three games this season and in five straight games dating back to last year. If Kansas wants to win on Saturday they are going to have to hold onto the ball. For BYU, playing on the road against an elite offense means if the Cougars want to win, it’s going to need to win the turnover battle and keep the Jayhawks offense off the field for as long as possible.
Almost ever group has exceeded expectations so far this year for BYU, however, the biggest disappointment so far has been the struggles along the offensive line. Preseason expectations for this group were through the roof, with projected first-rounder Kingsley Suamataia leading the charge with other veterans and solid transfers in Paul Maile (Utah) and junior Caleb Etienne (Oklahoma State). While pass protection has been decent, the run game has been absolutely dismal as the Cougars are averaging 2.7 yards per carry so far this year. Against Arkansas, it got worse as the Cougars averaged 2.5 yards per carry. When taking away LJ Martin’s 45 -yard TD run, the Cougars averaged a pathetic 1.1 yard per carry.
If BYU wants to beat Kansas on Saturday it’s going to have to have it’s best run game showing of the season, especially since the weather doesn’t look good. With expected thunderstorms bringing wind and rain, whoever has the best ground game will likely walk away with the win.
Prediction: Kansas 27, BYU 24
BYU vs. Kansas is one of eight meetings between undefeated teams on Saturday.
Predicting the winner of this game is tough as both teams are evenly matched, but I’m leaning towards Kansas just because the Jayhawks are not only playing at home, but have shown they can score consistently this year and move the ball. When factoring in the weather — with thunderstorms bringing rain and wind — the team who runs the ball most effectively will likely win this game.
And with BYU averaging just 2.7 yards per carry, which includes games against two cupcake schools, the run game does not inspire any confidence at the moment that the Cougars can suddenly turn it on and run for four of five yards per carry to keep the chains moving and controlling time of possession.
Kansas QB Jalon Daniels is similar to KJ Jefferson of Arkansas which the Cougars were able to contain, but Jalon is a lot lighter and quicker. A better comparison for Cougar fans is of Jayden Daniels who used to play at Arizona State and played against BYU in a 27-17 loss at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Jayden now starts at LSU, but both are very similar and terrific dual-threat quarterbacks. While BYU has seen enough of them to know how to game plan for the elusiveness, the biggest question mark is what will BYU’s offense do on Saturday. That’s the unknown so far this year and because of that and the weather — which could make both teams one dimensional — I’m leaning towards Kansas and Vegas is pretty confident too with the Jayhawks being nearly a 10-point favorite leading up to the game.