College football kicks off this weekend and the passion for teams in Utah is about to go through the roof. Fans of Utah and BYU are about to enter an era of unparalleled excitement and exposure.
Utah and BYU are basically stepping up a whole level in stature. For a few years now, Boise State has been the non-AQ darling. And deservedly so, as their performance has been consistent with that of a legitimate top 10 team.Boise State is no longer a party crasher. They belong on the guest list. BYU and Utah have been working to gain acceptance on that same list, and have done so with some success. However, BYU and Utah are about to enter the “in-crowd” for good.
Here’s why –
For Utah, it’s simple – they are in! They are officially members of a legitimate BCS conference. Probably the 2nd best BCS conference inAmerica! Not only are they “in the club” but they have a very real shot at playing in a game that determines who gets to play in the Rose Bowl. We’ll discuss that in a second.
For the Cougars, they finally ditched the hangers-on they’ve carried for the last 30 years. You might think it’s crazy but if BYU wins enough games – in terms of exposure, they will become not just the Notre Dame of the West, they might become Notre Dame. Their exposure on ESPN will be ridiculous. And like it or not – the talking heads on ESPN drive public opinion in college football. Going independent and signing on with ESPN may be the best move they’ve ever made. (Yes, even better than potentially joining the Big 12)
Allow me to lay out a realistic road map for each team. In so doing, you’ll see why I’m so optimistic about both programs.
No they won’t go undefeated and go to a BCS game this year. But they could very well go 8-4 and go to a BCS game this year.
That’s the beauty of it!
As for the team:
The Utes will have a very talented and athletic roster that won them a ton of games last year. However, most teams in the PAC-12 will have rosters made up of the same type of players- some with even better talent, though Utah will close that gap in the coming years. Utah essentially has untested running backs and a so-so quarterback. We’re lead to believe that Jordan Wynn’s mediocrity has been due to injury. Will this be the year when he’s finally healthy and firing on all cylinders? Wynn is of course now paired with legendary Offensive Coordinator, Norm Chow. Some think Chow’s best days are behind him. We shall see. Receiver, DeVonte Christopher should be one of the most dangerous offensive playmakers. Overall, the Ute defense will be great, I’m just not sure how much consistent offensive production they’ll be able to generate. They do still however, have one of best head coaches in the country.
That said, if Utah can go 2-1 in non-conference and manage a 6-3 PAC 12 record, they will likely play in the PAC 12 championship game. Remember, USC is ineligible for postseason play. So in the newly formed PAC-12 South division, Utah really just needs to finish 6-3 or maybe even 5-4 in conference, as long as USC is the only team ahead of them. If they do that, Utah will play in the inaugural PAC-12 championship with a Rose Bowl berth on the line.
Remember also – Utah does not play who most consider the two best teams in the PAC-12 – Oregon and Stanford. So with one of the easier league schedules, they just need to beat out Colorado, Arizona State, Arizona, and UCLA. Colorado is in total disarray and UCLA has not been consistent for several years now. Arizona Sate is supposed to be very good andArizona could be tough.
Montana St.- home
USC – away
BYU – away
UCLA – home
So let’s say their quarterback play is just so-so and they sustain a few key injuries on defense. Let’s say this leads to a record of 7-5 or 8-4 and they miss the championship game. Does it really matter? Instead of annihilating heavyweights such as Wyoming, Colorado State and New Mexico, you might instead go 3-2 at home against the likes of Washington, ArizonaState, OregonState, UCLA and Colorado. As a fan, wouldn’t you much rather watch that and bathe in the millions of $ the PAC-12 secured with the help of the rain maker, Larry Scott? (I know they don’t start earning a full share for a few more years)
I just don’t see Utah getting pushed around in the PAC-12. They’ve become too good a program. They will obviously be playing tougher competition week in and week out than they ever have before. However, they are picked by most experts to finish 3rd in the South division behind USC and ArizonaState. Who’s to say the Utes can’t catch a break or two and jump a spot, only to finish behind USC? Again, we know what that would signify – a chance at the Rose Bowl. If you’re a Utah fan, you can’t ask for more.
As for the team to the South –
Most BYU fans will be happy with 8 or 9 wins after such a terrible campaign last year. Thing is, the BYU offense is loaded. If Jake Heaps continues to progress like he did last year, you might even hear some Heisman hype for him by the end of the season. He’s that good and remember, ESPN is in the business of hyping their own product and BYU plays on one of the ESPN channels 11 times this year. The Cougars also have two great receivers in Cody Hoffman and McKay Jacobson, and we’re told that newcomer, Ross Apo, is off the charts. Mix in 3 very capable and experienced running backs and you could have a really high powered offense. They do not have a go-to tight end as they have in the past and their secondary is the weak spot on defense. They are also breaking in a brand new offensive coordinator in Brandon Doman. Let’s see how the play calling works out.
Central Florida- home
San JoseState- home
New MexicoState- home
What first jumps out on the schedule is the same thing as last year – it’s front loaded. Who knows if Texas will beTexas this year or the Texas of last year? You also worry that BYU could come off a potentially big win against Utah and come out flat the next week and get beat byCentral Florida. BYU should steam roll through their pseudo WAC schedule they play at home. I know they lost to Utah State last year but I think they will exact some serious revenge on the Aggies at home. I also believe this is a year where the Holy War is not close. BYU should beat Utah by at least a touchdown and 1/2 at home.
There is however no reason to believe Bronco Mendenhall can ever beat Gary Patterson and TCU. TCU has destroyed the Cougars the past several years. The good news for BYU is that Andy Dalton now plays for the Cincinnati Bengals, instead of TCU.
It’s not a stretch to believe BYU will be favored against Oregon State. Finally, the game at Hawaii could be a real landmine for BYU.
It’s probably safe to say the Cougars go 8-4 or 9-3. With a little luck, they maybe get their 5th 10-win season under Bronco Mendenhall. How high their ranking ends up will of course depend on how good their opponents end up. On paper, you figure BYU will play 5, maybe 6 teams that at some point in the year will be in the top 25 (TCU-15, Texas-24; Utah, Central Florida, Hawaii and Oregon State are all in the “others receiving votes” in the initial coaches poll.) Best case scenario is this: BYU puts together a magical 10 or 11 win season, their “quality” opponents end up in the top 30 or so, ESPN hypes them all year long, and all the 2nd and 3rd place teams in the power conferences have 2 or 3 losses. Remember who now airs all but one of the BCS games – that’s right, ESPN. I could see where if the aforementioned scenario played out, ESPN could shoe horn BYU into the Fiesta Bowl. It’s unlikely but not implausible.
Here’s to the beginning of the “Big Time” for BYU and Utah. We’ll certainly follow it as things unfold.