Las Vegas Bowl
BYU vs. Utah
Saturday, 12:30 pm PT - ABC
CRIS Opener: Utah -2.5 O/U 54
CRIS Current: Utah -2.5 O/U 51.5
Utah has been drawing significant support in recent bowl games, in large part due to Kyle Whiitingham’s impressive track record: 7-1 SU, 6-2 ATS in his eight bowls with the Utes. They blew out Colorado State 45-10 last year. And bettors certainly haven’t forgotten outright bowl upsets against the likes of Alabama, Cal, and Georgia Tech (twice) in the Whiitingham era.
The Utes have also enjoyed great success in recent seasons against their in-state rival. The Utes have won each of the last four meetings since 2010 – three tight victories by a touchdown or less, and a 54-10 wipeout in Provo back in 2011. The two teams didn’t meet in the regular season this year, making this matchup a highly anticipated revenge meeting for the slight underdog.
For many of these minor bowls, motivation is a key element of the handicap. That’s most assuredly not the case in this game. These two programs are legitimately bitter rivals. Any handicap of this contest must anticipate both squads showing up with their A-game, or something close.
That being said, BYU has two key elements working in their favor when it comes to the likelihood of bringing their A-game. First, while Utah is excited to play BYU, the Utes got screwed in the bowl pecking order; jumped by lesser teams to create more attractive matchups. They were right here in Vegas last year – in fact, three of their last four bowl appearances have come right here in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Multiple players were quoted saying that they wished they would have gone somewhere else. And the one previous time they weren’t particularly excited to make the trip to Vegas was the Utes lone SU bowl loss of the Whittingham era, a 26-3 wipeout by Boise.
And secondly, it’s very meaningful that BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall and his staff stuck around to coach this game, despite their impending move to Virginia immediately following the contest. It’s not just Mendenhall either. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae, QB coach Jason Beck, RB coach Mark Atuaia, OL coach Garrett Tujague, defensive coordinator Nick Howell and LB/special teams coach Kelly Popinga, are all moving to Virginia as well, but they’re all sticking around with Mendenhall to coach one last game for BYU, ensuring continuity on both sides of the football here.
Yes, all of this stuff is peripheral to the matchups on the field. But the matchups on the field provide a nearly dead even handicap, with no clear edges for either side. Utah started the season 6-0, including impressive wins against the likes of Michigan, Oregon, Cal and Arizona State in the process. But the Utes cooled off considerably down the stretch, suffering losses to USC, Arizona and UCLAwhile failing to cover the spread in tighter than expected wins against PAC-12 bottom feeder Oregon State and Colorado. The only really good game Utah played after the midway point of the season came at Washington, and the Utes were outgained in that contest, winning by margin only due to four Huskies turnovers.
That being said, creating turnovers was something the Utes did very well this season. Their defense picked off 19 passes, the second highest total in the country for a Power 5 conference school. And the Utes created at least two takeaways in nine of their twelve games. But the Utes offense isn’t loaded by any stretch of the imagination, especially with leading rusher, senior RB Devontae Booker out for the year following a stretch of seven 100+ yard rushing games in a nine week span. The Utes went 0-2 ATS after Booker got hurt.
BYU opened the season with three consecutive games that were decided in the final seconds, notching wins over Nebraska and Boise, followed by a one point loss at UCLA. But since a late September no-show loss at Michigan, the Cougars have gone 7-1, the lone loss coming at Missouri in the week that Tigers coach Gary Pinkel announced he was retiring due to cancer while his team came together in protest over a racial incident on campus. In other words, it was a VERY tough spot for BYU.
Cougs frosh QB Tanner Magnum put up far superior numbers to Travis Wilson this year, and the Cougars are as big and physical in the trenches as it gets in college football. Their receiving corps is loaded, their defense solid. Given the intangibles favoring the Cougs, looking to send Mendenhall off win a huge win against their rivals, I have no hesitation recommending a play on BYU plus the points here.