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When Utah, BYU, Utah State hit the field, all eyes will be on the QBs (plus predictions)

Storylines and suspense await for Utah’s three FBS programs this weekend.

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BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis (10) celebrates a touchdown with teammates during a game against the Southern Utah Thunderbirds.

BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis (10) celebrates a touchdown with teammates during a game against the Southern Utah Thunderbirds at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Sept. 9, 2023. Slovis has been steady but not spectacular thus far for the Cougars. Can he lead BYU to an upset over Kansas in its Big 12 opener.

Megan Nielsen, Deseret News

Rise up QBs.

It’s that time and theme of the week.

Cam Rising: Will he play?

Nate Johnson: Can he be QB1?

Kedon Slovis: How many receivers can he engage?

Jalon Daniels: Will he dice up the Cougars’ D?

McCae Hillstead: Will he grow up fast?

So much of this weekend’s local football drama centers around quarterback play. 

It will be the focal point of games involving UCLA at Utah, BYU at Kansas, and Utah State hosting James Madison.

Utah opens Pac-12 play by hosting the Bruins in Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, and the Cam Rising recovery saga continues. Will he play, or will medical experts recommend he take another week off although cleared to practice with no restrictions?

The Utes will face a UCLA team breaking in freshman QB Dante Moore. This is a young talent that is capable and Utah cannot afford to take him lightly because of his age. He is elusive, has a great arm, and is athletic.

Playing Utah’s defense in Salt Lake City will be a huge challenge for Moore, the first real big test after facing Coastal Carolina, San Diego State and North Carolina Central. The Bruins surprised Utah in last year’s UCLA win by matching the physicality Utah is known for. If Moore can continue his trajectory, the Bruins have a chance.

Utah needs to win this game with its defense — giving the Rising issue a chance to work itself out. If Johnson is the starter in place of Rising, he will need a big assist from the Utes run game to be successful versus the Bruin defense.

In Lawrence, Kansas, BYU’s Kedon Slovis really needs to find his rhythm with his receivers because the Big 12’s preseason offensive player of the year, Jalon Daniels, is expected to deliver big plays early and late.

The Cougars proved they could go toe-to-toe with Arkansas last week and Slovis had his moments in that win, but once again his targets will be facing tough physical man pressure at the line from Kansas corners Cobee Bryant and Mello Dotson.

Slovis has solved part of this challenge with more targets to tight end Isaac Rex, but to win this game he’ll need to spread it around and involve a combination of Chase Roberts, Kody Epps, Keanu Hill, Darius Lassiter, Keelan Marion and Parker Kingston.

BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick wants his pass game to achieve at least 10 yards per attempted pass. Slovis is at 7.3 YPA through three games. This needs to improve in Big 12 play.

Fesi Sitake, BYU’s passing game coordinator, praised the Kansas defense this week, calling them a very well-coached unit. He also knows improvement is needed.

“Their corners are long, very physical. When they decide to play man, they are very physical, which will be good for us because after last game we need to improve on facing that,” said Sitake.

BYU also needs to gain more than 120 yards on the ground to win this game.

In Logan, Blake Anderson made a risky change at QB for a game against James Madison.  Anderson did this after inserting freshman McCae Hillstead (Skyridge High) in the second quarter of a loss to Air Force in place of Cooper Legas. Hillstead responded by completing 18 of 27 passes for three touchdowns.

Hillstead has a tremendous opportunity to keep the job during a nonconference home game. This could be a key turning point — good or bad — for the Aggies as the Mountain West schedule sans Air Force looms on the horizon.

This week’s picks

  • Oklahoma 48, Cincinnati 24.
  • TCU 38, SMU 14.
  • West Virginia 21, Texas Tech 17.
  • Iowa State 28, Oklahoma State 21.
  • Houston 17, Sam Houston 9.
  • Texas 42, Baylor 17.
  • UCF  34, Kansas State 31.
  • Oregon 42, Colorado 31.
  • Utah 24, UCLA 21.
  • Oregon State 28, Washington State 21.
  • USC  42, Arizona State 3.
  • Washington 38, California 14.
  • Utah State 17, James Madison 14.
  • BYU 28, Kansas 24.

Last week: 12-4; overall 35-10 (.777)


All eyes will be on Utah quarterback Cam Rising when the offense takes to the field Saturday afternoon against UCLA. Will he be in the huddle or on the sideline?

Rick Bowmer, Associated Press