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Predictions: Utes carry big burden for Pac-12, Cougars kick off last season of independence

Utah’s game with Florida carries big CFP ramifications, BYU anxious to climb up the rankings

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BYU Cougars defensive back Isaiah Herron brings down Utah Utes running back Micah Bernard as BYU and Utah play in 2021.

Brigham Young Cougars defensive back Isaiah Herron tackles Utah running back Micah Bernard at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021. Both teams enter 2022 season with much to play for.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

This weekend in college football, BYU will try to climb up the AP ranking ladder and Utah will be carrying the credibility of the Pac-12 on its shoulders.

The load is not all on Utah. But it kind of is.

The Pac-12 went 0-5 last year in bowl games and its member teams lost to San Diego State, Northern Arizona, Montana and BYU (five times). The league had more losses to Group of Five teams than wins, the worst among P5s.

But on Saturday, Utah is at Florida in The Swamp and Oregon travels to Georgia. These are marquee games right out of the chute — something that had gone against the scheduling science of some Pac-12 athletic directors in the past.

The No. 7-ranked Utes are a slight favorite over Florida, a team that could give Utah’s tight-end heavy offensive attack problems with its physical, fast secondary. The Utes will miss Little General Britain Covey, whose magical talents in turning the field upside down for Kyle Whittingham were evident in the Rose Bowl with that electrifying 97-yard kickoff return. 

For the Cougars, this is the final campaign of independence, a time and period where the Cougars have had to whittle out the competition, everywhere from Austin and Ann Arbor to Rocky Top and the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

For BYU’s seniors who will never play in the Big 12, this is the last campaign and they can put their own stamp on the era.

BYU at South Florida

Darrell Funk’s BYU offensive line will have at least 25 to 30 pounds and 3 to 6 inches in size advantage over South Florida’s defensive front. This opens the door for BYU to try to be physical and pound the ball at the Bulls — and it should work.

USF defensive end Jatorian Hansford is 6-foot-4, 255; the tackles are Rashwan Yates at 6-3, 280 and Rashad Cheney, who is 6-2, 290. The other end, opposite Hansford, is Jason Vaughn, who goes 6-5, 252. All of BYU’s offensive linemen are over 300 pounds and range from 6-8 to the smallest at 6-4. And they have reserves that are just as big.

It will be the hogs against the greyhounds come Saturday and Cal transfer Chris Brooks and Lopini Katoa could be the big beneficiaries. It won’t be like this against Baylor, so this is the week to lean on folks.

Utah at Florida

Utah scheduled one of these type of games a while back against Michigan and won. But this isn’t the diet Utah usually likes to digest before a Pac-12 slate of games. With an increased emphasis on toughening up the Pac-12’s out-of-conference schedule for CFP considerations and a different scheduling philosophy from Utah AD Mark Harlan, you have this intriguing intersectional P5 showdown in Florida.

Cam Rising’s performance last year in deploying a tight end attack and putting up points was impressive and Tavion Thomas became a legitimate all-league performer by the end of last season.

Utah’s challenge will be in the trenches, where Florida is athletically talented and sports one of the best linebacking corps in the country. If Florida’s linebackers can contain Thomas and cover Utah’s Dalton Kincaid and Brant Kuithe, it could be a real challenge for the Utes on the road.

I think this is a game where everyone will come to appreciate what Covey brought to the Utah program now that he’s gone.

This week’s picks

UCLA 21, Bowling Green 14

Michigan 38, Colorado State 7

Air Force 34, Northern Iowa 21

Georgia 28, Oregon 21

Cincinnati 27, Arkansas 24

Houston 38, USTA 21

San Diego State 33, Arizona 24

USC 48, Rice 10

Alabama 48, Utah State 7

Boise State 28, Oregon State 27

Florida State 34, LSU 21

Florida 24, Utah 21

BYU 34, South Florida 21