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It’s early, but moment of truth is here for Utah, BYU, USU (and weekly predictions)

Can USU and BYU keep momentum, and can Utah rebound?

Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall delivers a pass as BYU and Utah play.
Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Jaren Hall (3) delivers a pass as BYU and Utah play an NCAA football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

It is accountability time for college football in Utah.

Can BYU pull off another win over a ranked opponent in Provo? Will Utah rebound for its first road trip outside Utah and beat a fired-up San Diego State team in Los Angeles? Does Utah State have the ability to beat Air Force and start the season 3-0? Can Weber State beat James Madison in a showdown of two of the nation’s top-ranked FCS football programs?

Time to timestamp all these programs and separate the hype from reality, momentum from skid.

BYU’s Jaren Hall has yet to turn the ball over in eight quarters against Power Five competition, and he’ll get a chance to prove he is no fluke when No. 19-ranked Arizona State visits Provo to challenge the No. 23 Cougars.

We’ve seen a lot from Hall. What would be impressive is if he keeps his ball control savvy and starts hooking up on some of those deep balls to Gunner Romney and Samson and Puka Nacua. Do that, and BYU’s offense takes the next step.

ASU will bring the quickest roster the Cougars will face this season into LaVell Edwards Stadium. From quarterback Jayden Daniels, running backs Deamonte Trayanum and Rachaad White to veteran corners Jack Jones and Chase Lucas, BYU will need to counter with fundamentals, angles and increased tackling as well as obtaining turnovers.

ASU’s weakness is pass protection for Daniels and showing the ability to get pressure on a QB like Hall. In other words, BYU could have an advantage in the trenches. Look for ASU to try to establish the run and force BYU to crowd the line of scrimmage, then try to hit some big plays on the perimeter.

BYU wins if the Cougars can play consistently, as we witnessed in the streak-ending win over rival Utah last Saturday.

Utah will take on a physical, fast, confident and streaking SDSU team that put up 38 on Arizona last week.

Utah will need to show far more physicality and organization than a week ago, and that starts with establishing the run game, flexing strength up front and a better ability to protect Charlie Brewer.

Utah’s defensive front and corners will need to make far more plays than last week in Provo, proving that preseason chatter is valid, that Utah has one of the better defenses in the Pac-12.

SDSU quarterback Jordan Brookshire did not practice Monday or Tuesday and was seen wearing a support boot on his foot after suffering an undisclosed injury against Arizona. If Brookshire can’t start, Georgia Tech graduate transfer Lucas Johnson, who had the early lead for the starting job in fall camp, will get the nod.

Utah must win this game, not that it makes any difference to Pac-12 play and standings, but losing back-to-back games to non-P5 opponents could signal there are issues head coach Kyle Whittingham has yet to fully fix. If they lose ... when was the last time Whittingham had two pre-conference losses like that?

Utah State is sailing along just fine but now comes the moment of truth at Air Force. The challenge — to get organized for the flex-bone option attack the Falcons are so famous for — is daunting.

I picked the Aggies to win their first two games, but it will be hard to go against the experts, who favor Air Force over USU this week.

Blake Anderson has done a masterful job so far with Logan Bonner, and Savon Scarver’s kick return artistry could be the difference in the game. I think Air Force will have trouble with Aggie linebacker Justin Rice, but can USU’s corners be disciplined enough to defend the option?

If USU wins this game, the Aggies will be a Mountain West Conference divisional factor. A bowl invite could be on the horizon.

Weber State will have all it can handle with James Madison and if you have some time, a peek at this game in person would be worth the effort to see two great coaches and programs go toe-to-toe.


This week’s picks

Oklahoma State 34, Boise State 21

Minnesota 28, Colorado 24

Oregon State 27, Idaho 9

Southern Cal 27, Washington State 21

Washington 21, Arkansas State 17

UCLA 42, Fresno State 21

Air Force 24, Utah State 21

Utah 28, San Diego State 21

Weber State 21, James Madison 17

BYU 28, Arizona State 24

Last week 8-5; overall 19-8 (.703)