Some are calling this weekend the most important football schedule of games in Pac-12 history and the Utah-BYU rivalry sits somewhere in the middle of it.
Oregon plays at No. 3 Ohio State and Washington is at Michigan while Colorado hosts No. 5 Texas A&M.
Those are huge matchups for the College Football Playoff committee to give or take credit points away from the league.
The Utes are expected to run undefeated through September and for many, Saturday’s game with the Cougars is expected to just be one more feather in the headdress.
Oh, yeah, this BYU-Utah thing.
It’s the biggest previously COVID-19-canceled-two-year-future-hiatus-must-take-a-break rivalry game in the country, bar none.
Then throw into the mix BYU receiving and accepting a Big 12 invite, the biggest college sports story since the Utes joined the Pac-12 in 2010.
Utah is favored by a touchdown. But what if the No. 20 Utes lose? What does that do to the league’s matrix? Would Utah stay ranked with a loss? What credibility would a Utah win give the league that is looking to put some makeup on a stinky opening week?
BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick, who has been on both ends of the rivalry as a player and coach, had it right.
You must credit Kyle Whittingham for Utah’s run of nine straight victories over the Cougars. He hasn’t lost since walking out of LaVell Edwards Stadium when Max Hall tossed a game-winning touchdown to Andrew George in overtime back in 2009, vowing it wouldn’t happen again.
And it hasn’t. Not through the middle and end of Bronco Mendenhall’s tenure and half a decade of Kalani Sitake.
“He is a great coach. This game is a big deal to him. That’s why they’re so good, he’s leading that ship,” said Roderick.
Now, it’s Roderick’s job to get the Cougars to end that streak. He knows ball security is at the top of the list. The Cougars have had 29 turnovers to Utah’s 14 in the losing streak.
Over nine straight losses to Utah, BYU has more than twice as many turnovers as the Utes.— Greg Wrubell (@gregwrubell) September 8, 2021
TOs during streak
Of BYU's 29 turnovers, nine were defensive touchdowns by Utah.
Of Utah's 14 turnovers, zero were defensive touchdowns by BYU.
“You can’t score if you don’t have the ball,” said Roderick, emphasizing the importance of ball security and completing drives.
If Utah QB Charlie Brewer passes for more than 385 yards, Utah wins.
If BYU wins the turnover battle, the Cougars win.
If Jaren Hall runs for more than 100, BYU wins.
If Utah gets a pick-six, the Utes win.
If Utah sacks Hall more than four times, Utah wins.
If BYU receivers catch three TDs, BYU wins.
If Tyler Allgeier runs for 120 yards, BYU wins.
If Devin Lloyd gets 7 or fewer total tackles, BYU wins.
If Utah’s secondary gets called for four PI calls, BYU wins.
If BYU’s defense faces more than 80 plays again, Utah wins.
If any Cougar fan gets into a scuffle with a Ute yell leader, Utah wins.
If, if, if ...
The Pac-12 North embarrassed the league last week led by the puzzling loss of No. 20 Washington to Montana. Stanford lost to Kansas State, Oregon held off Fresno State, Nevada knocked off Cal and Purdue defeated Oregon State. Washington State fell to Utah State at home.
Those losses prompted new Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff to say it was “inexcusable to lose some of those games.”
He was primarily pointing to Washington, but it makes sense to include losers Cal and Stanford in the mix.
On the other hand, UCLA proved it will be a serious force in the South Division with an impressive win over LSU. The Bruins are fast, strong, deep and explosive. Watch out.
Utah State, fresh off a win at Washington State, will host North Dakota State on Friday night and that home game looms large for the program because it sets a tone for league play. Going into Mountain West play 2-0 feels so much different than 1-1.
This week’s picks
Ohio State 38, Oregon 28
TCU 34, Cal 14
Texas 38, Arkansas 17
Michigan 34, Washington 17
Arizona 21, San Diego State 17
USC 38, Stanford 24
Arizona State 41, UNLV 9
Oregon State 17, Hawaii 14
Texas A&M 28, Colorado 21
Washington State 24, Portland State 21
Air Force 34, Navy 24
Utah State 28, North Dakota 24 (Friday)
Utah 27, BYU 24
Last week: 11-3