With both Utah and BYU finishing at 9-3, this matchup seemed destined for these schools to reunite the Holy War. The in-state rivalry ended a couple years ago having not played each other since 2013, but that will be renewed in Vegas this year. The Utes are currently a -2.5 point favorite (at 5 Dimes Sportsbook) in the Las Vegas Bowl.
This result is probably a bit disappointing for the Utes, who were at one time the No. 4 team in the country with an undefeated record and a huge win over Oregon. Instead, they struggled down the stretch and finished with three losses and some lackluster efforts.
BYU had an opposite finish to its season, winning seven of its last eight Games, but part of that can be due to an easier Schedule. against mostly MWC and AAC competition, the Cougars picked up wins against weaker teams and lost at home to Missouri. Still, it can’t be discredited that they won at Nebraska and against Boise State earlier in the year, in addition to almost taking down UCLA.
Utah has had the edge in recent meetings, winning the last Four and covering in the last three. But almost every meeting seems to be close outside of a 54-10 beat down in 2011. Utah will try and get back its early-season success to win this one. Motivation shouldn’t be a question for either team as this is a rivalry.
BYU has won Games through a consistent defense and steady passing Game. Tanner Mangum has come a long way since the start of the season when he was only known as the Hail Mary kid. He finished the year with 21 TDs and 7 INTs, with 15 TDs and only 2 INTs in his last seven Games. Mangum isn’t the same kind of runner Taysom Hill is, but he has mostly made up for that with his arm. Mangum and Mitch Mathews have been unstoppable together, combining for 729 yards and 11 touchdowns. BYU’s running Game hasn’t been great against better defenses and that could be the case here. Running back Algernon Brown leads that attack with 697 yards and 11 TDs on the year.
Utah is built similarly to BYU with a stout defense and consistent offense, although a bit more run-heavy. The Utes struggled only a couple times on the defensive side this year, and BYU doesn’t present the same type of offense that some Pac-12 teams do.
But the Cougars have been good defensively as well, holding UCLA and Cincinnati to 24 points each. Still, this Utah offense will be much harder than BYU’s last five Games against weaker competition.
Stud running back Devontae Booker is out, but Joe Williams has been solid in replacement, rushing for 308 yards and a touchdown in the final two Games of the year. As usual, the Utes will force feed the running Game and BYU has a mediocre run defense. Quarterback Travis Wilson will want to show up in a big way though, playing in his final collegiate Game. The oft-injured QB has struggled throwing the ball this year, which isn’t a huge surprise, but his running (466 yards, 6 TDs) has kept this offense alive. Wilson is a physical QB and he’ll put his body on the line for a win, and a few weeks of rest probably helps him the most of anyone in this Game.
This Game will undoubtedly be close. Even if Utah is the better team, BYU has competed in every Game this year (outside of the Michigan blowout).
The Utes are 5-1 ATS in the last six meetings, but the underdog has covered in five straight. The Utes are also 8-2 ATS in their last 10 bowl Games, while the Cougars don’t have much going for them, outside of an 8-4 ATS mark on the year.
Our Pick – Motivation in Bowl Games is huge, especially with the early Bowl Games. Let’s face it, no one wants an early Bowl. New Years Eve or later is the goal of any program. Playing on December 19th, the very first day of Bowl Game play, is, well, likely a disappointment for both of these programs.
But who is likely more disappointed? We’d say Utah. They had a 6-0 start and were ranked highly in the polls. Heck, they were thinking National Championship. At the very least, New Years Day was a good possibility.
But for BYU, they lost back to back Games early in the year. It was over for them before they started. But they rallied down the stretch and played some good ball. Now they have a chance to put the cherry on top by knocking off a Utah team that could be disinterested to begin with.
When we run this Game thru Our model using only the last 7 Games, it comes up a dead even toss up. With that in mind, we’ll grab any points available, which, at this writing is +2.5. BYU +2.5