It’s a good time to be fans of both the BYU and Utah football programs.
Both teams are coming off banner years, having won 10 games while finishing the 2021 season in the top 25.
The Cougars and Utes, too, are projected by many experts to be top 25-caliber programs this season.
It’s no surprise, then, that both schools are consistently brought up in national conversations about the 2022 season.
Earlier this week, Bleacher Report’s Brad Shepard identified 11 games for his way-too-early college football upset picks in the upcoming season, and BYU and Utah are involved in two of them — though in different ways.
Upset No. 1: Could BYU upset Baylor?
“In what may be one of the longest shots, the BYU Cougars are set to host Baylor on Sept. 10, and they owe coach Dave Aranda’s Bears some payback,” Shepard wrote.
“A season ago, the Bears pulled off a big win in Waco, Texas, in a battle of 5-1 teams. They handled Kalani Sitake’s team 38-24 on their way to the Big 12 title and only improved throughout the year.”
Where both teams finished last season: BYU went 10-3 last season, including a 6-1 record against Power Five programs, and finished the year No. 19 in the final Associated Press poll rankings. Baylor went 12-2, won the Sugar Bowl and ended the year No. 5 in the final AP poll.
Why it’s intriguing: This is a matchup of future Big 12 rivals, with BYU joining the conference in 2023. The Bears took care of business against the Cougars last season by rushing for 303 yards and controlling possession.
Both teams return their starting quarterbacks — Jaren Hall at BYU and Gerry Bohanon at Baylor — though the Cougars have a significant edge in returning production, per ESPN’s Bill Connolly. BYU is second nationally in returning production (88%), while Baylor is 99th (58%), per Connolly.
Upset No. 2: Could USC beat Utah?
“A shift in the Pac-12’s balance of power could come Oct. 15, when the Trojans travel to Salt Lake City to take on the defending champion Utah Utes. Coach Kyle Whittingham’s team is expected to be the class of the conference again,” Shepard wrote.
“But it has been known for hiccups along the way, and while it may be asking too much for the Trojans to be consistent throughout the year, they’re going to nab some big wins.”
Where both teams finished last season: Utah went 10-4 in 2021, won their first Pac-12 championship, appeared in the Rose Bowl for the first time in program history and finished the year ranked No. 12 in the final AP poll. USC, meanwhile, went 4-8, fired head coach Clay Helton midseason and replaced him with former Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley.
Why it’s intriguing: The Utes are the team to beat in the Pac-12 South. Utah has played in three of the past four Pac-12 championship games and last year, the Utes easily beat the Trojans in Los Angeles behind returning quarterback Cam Rising.
It’s been a competitive series between the two schools since Utah joined the Pac-12 — USC holds a 7-4 series lead since 2011, though they’ve split the past four games. This year’s contest will largely revolve around Riley and how fast he can turn around a moribund Trojans program.
The Utes, though, have won three of the past four matchups in Salt Lake City, with the only loss coming in the COVID-19 impacted 2020 season.