Throw out the records because Thursday’s season-opening game between No. 14 Utah and BYU will likely be another classic and down-to-the-wire finish.
Just when you thought you had seen it all, last year’s game threw fans a twist as BYU jumped out to a 20-point lead, before Utah rallied for a 35-27 come-from-behind victory. It was the largest comeback victory for the Utes in the rivalry game and pushed its winning streak to eight games over the Cougars.
Over the past 25 meetings, 19 games have been decided by a touchdown or less, including two overtime games and a stopped two-point conversion attempt in 2016. Since the Pac-12 era, BYU and Utah have been favored four times each. And over the last five games, the contest has been decided by an average of five points.
Date: Thursday, August 29
Time: 8:20 p.m. MT
Announcers: Anish Shroff, Ahmad Brooks, Kris Budden
Location: LaVell Edwards Stadium (63,470) — Provo, Utah
Social Media: #HolyWar #BYUvsUtah, #UtahatBYU, #GoUtes, #BYUFOOTBALL
Back in June, when betting lines opened for Week 1 of the college football season, the Utes opened up as a touchdown favorite (-7) over the Cougars. Yet as national praise from media outlets came in — highlighted by Lee Corso having Utah in the national championship game — betting lines continued to fall in the Holy War game with a number of point spreads at sportsbooks dropping down to 4.5. However, as of Monday those lines are starting to move back up with Utah sitting as a 5.5 favorite.
The money line involves simply picking the winning team. With Utah at -210 — down from -435 in last year’s game — those picking Utah to win would have to risk $210 to win $100. However, for those picking BYU, one would win $175 for his/her $100 wager.
Key Matchup — The Battle Of The Trenches
The Utah defense under head coach Kyle Whittingham has always been great and somehow manages to get better every single year. This year, the defense brings nearly everyone back and looks to take it up a notch after finishing near the top in a number of defensive categories last year. Many experts even believe Utah has the best defensive line in the entire country led by future NFL players in Leki Fotu and Bradlee Anae.
On offense, BYU will counter with four returning starters along with several other players who have significant experience. Several experts and media members believe the Cougars have three future NFL players on the offensive line, led by James Empey and Tristen Hoge, who transferred from Notre Dame two years ago. And with a year under their belt under Jeff Grimes’ offense, the offensive line should open up some big holes for South Carolina transfer Ty’Son Williams along with returning running back Lopini Katoa.
In last year’s game the Cougar offensive line dominated in the first half before Utah’s defensive line stepped up in the second half. If the Utes can bring pressure with just three of four guys, BYU will in trouble, however, if the Utes need to bring 6-7 guys in order to get to Wilson, expect the Cougars to put up even more points this year, which will likely be enough for the victory.
While both teams bring back a lot of experience and a number of starters on both sides of the ball, both squads are also coming into Thursday’s game with a number of questions. The most important question is how players are going to respond after having surgery. Utah ended the season losing a number of key players to season-ending injuries, including quarterback Tyler Huntley, star running back Zack Moss and leading receiver wideout Britian Covey.
On the other side, BYU was also hit hard by injuries losing a plethora of starters and even needed to convert one of its linebackers to running back towards the end of last season. Sophomore BYU quarterback Zach Wilson returns after taking the starting job midway through the season last year, however, he like a number of others, had offseason surgery.
Throughout fall camp, coaches have kept quiet about injuries and return timetables for players. However, players that have talked, say they are 100%, including Moss who stated such despite wearing a cast on his hand. Wilson has also been on a pitch count for the majority of fall camp after missing of all spring to repair his shoulder. We’ll see just how 100% they really are Thursday night.
Prediction: Utah 24, BYU 20
Utah has won eight straight games in the series, and seeing how mental the streak has become for BYU — evident by blowing last year’s 27-7 lead in the second half — the easy choice is to pick the 14th-ranked Utes. Until the Cougars can show they can break the Max Hall curse, there is no reason to go against Kyle Whittingham who knows how to get his guys ready for the big game.
At the same time, Utah always drops a game that it should win, and this game seems to be setting up like one of those contests. And with Covey and Moss likely game-time decisions — as they recover from offseason surgery and lingering injuries from fall camp — on top of it being the first game of the season, there’s no reason to count the Cougars out just yet. Whatever the score is, fans can expect another classic showdown between both teams in what should be another down-to-the-wire game.