Both BYU and Utah State are trying to prove everyone wrong this week...
The number 21 is the connection that both the BYU vs Oklahoma and the Utah State vs Utah games share. 21 is the betting line for both games, with Utah State and BYU being the underdogs in each. Yet, it is hard to think that BYU is as far away from Oklahoma as Utah State is from Utah.
Utah State probably has a much better chance of beating Utah than BYU has beating Oklahoma. Look back at the Aggies season a year ago, and you will notice that they weren't that far away from a 5-7 season. While you might be saying, "What is the big deal? 3-9 or 5-7, both are pretty bad." Yes, both are poor records to have as a team, but there is a big difference between barely 3-9 and a disappointing 3-9. The Aggies had the talent last season to be a 5-7 team, and try to push to find a way to get a sixth all important win.
The majority of the contributing players that the Aggies had last season are back this season. They have a solid running back in Robert Turbin, and a proven play maker in Diondre Borel. The defense should be better, although the defensive line could still use some serious work. The other difference that the Aggies have, which will make a difference, is a change in attitude. It is clear to anyone watching the Aggies practice that there is a different mentality among the team. Gary Anderson has brought in a culture of accountability, discipline, and hope.
In regards to the Utah game, Utah State has the competitive advantage in that Utah has no idea what to expect from the Aggies. While at the same time Gary Anderson knows Utah's defense inside and out. Anderson has done everything that he can to keep a tight lid on the changes he is implementing in Logan. He is restricting the media's access to his players, practices, and even limiting what he showed to fans at the final fall scrimmage. Gary Anderson could have some surprises in store for his old team, when he makes his return to Rice-Eccles stadium.
Utah State is improved this season, but Utah might be a little overrated from last season. Utah is still a very good football team; however, they have lost some key skill players. Brian Johnson really made the offense work last season, and his loss along with Darrell Mack will hurt the productivity of the offense. Yet, the biggest loss for Utah is Paul Kruger. The most influential position on defense in college football is defensive end. A good defensive end will change a college football game. If you think otherwise, just look back at last year's BYU vs Utah game. Kruger almost single handily shut down Max Hall in that game. Kruger was a player that other teams had to game plan for, and always know where he was on the field. Utah has some good talent on defense, but they don't have another Paul Kruger.
Utah is trying to retool their offense on the run, and rely on their defense to carry them in their first few games. This is the biggest advantage, and chance that Utah State has in their opening game. If Gary Anderson's knowledge of Utah's defense can establish a weakness that the Aggies could exploit, then Utah State could get into a higher scoring game which would give them a chance to outscore a newly tooled Utah offense.
While Utah is good, but rebuilding; Oklahoma is great,they are coming back from a National Title Game loss, and the majority of their skill players are coming back. They have a Heisman Trophy winner, arguably the best front seven on defense ever in college football, and a stable full of tall athletic wide receivers. Oklahoma has little to no question marks going into the season, they are only worried about a possible injury derailing their chances of beating Texas and returning to the National Championship game.
BYU on the other hand ended last season on a huge low note. Max Hall turned into an interception/fumbling machine. Unga disappeared from the offense. The secondary was a complete joke. Plus, the four out of five offensive linemen graduated from school. The offensive line and secondary were the major concerns coming into the new season for BYU, and surprisingly enough there are more questions and concerns about the offensive line and secondary today than at the beginning of camp.
Three offensive linemen who were thought to contribute this season are injured: Matt Reynolds, Houston Reynolds, and Jason Speredon, although Matt Reynolds may return for the Oklahoma game.
The secondary is a pure mystery. The athletes in the secondary are better this season, than last year's secondary. Yet, the top four secondary guys are all fighting injuries, and another member of the secondary, Garett Nicholson, didn't qualify for school.
BYU has their work cut out for them against the Sooners. The only real chance that BYU has in their opening game is to control the clock. BYU would have to turn to their ground attack to keep the ball out of Sam Bradford's hands. Even if BYU were to make the game low scoring, and control the time of possession, it is very unlikely that they will win.
BYU needs to hope that they will at least be in striking distance at the end of the game, and hope that one of the new players can step up and have a breakout game. The one weakness that the Sooners do have, is they are trying to replace members of their secondary. If BYU can stay close, they could take advantage of the Sooners' secondary in the end.
Is it a long shot for both BYU and Utah State? Yes. Can both teams still have successful seasons even if they lose their opening game? Yes. Could both teams win their openers? It would shock some people, but it isn't impossible. There is a reason that teams actually play the game on the field and not on paper.