It's been an interesting year for both BYU and Utah fans. While each team feels like they're at roughly the same spot, talent-wise, Utah got here by falling fast from a #5 national ranking, and BYU arrived where they are after firing defensive coordinator Jaime Hill and winning five of their next six games.
To simplify, neither team is outstanding this season. Utah's #20 ranking in the BCS standings seems a little inflated, and I believe BYU's improved defense puts them near the top 25.
Both teams have a young quarterback who has struggled mightily at times. Both teams have put up tons of points on lesser opponents and gotten blown out by the likes of TCU. Neither team has a 100-yard-per-game rusher, and neither team has a 100-yard-per-game receiver.
This makes it interesting for both defenses. There's no one to focus on... no Austin Collie to worry about or Alex Smith to try and gameplan for.
I believe this means that this year, maybe more than any in recent history, there's a great chance a relatively unknown player can be the hero for the winning team tomorrow.
And speaking of history, the last 15 years of this rivalry indicate that when both teams are relatively equal in terms of talent, it's a dogfight. So if 2009's overtime victory for BYU didn't give you a heart attack, this year's matchup might.
I've thought long and hard about who should win on Saturday, and for the longest time I just couldn't come up with an answer. If I thought Jordan Wynn was a better quarterback, I'd be afraid of him throwing every down and giving BYU's (typically) underwhelming secondary fits. As it is, I think he can be rushed and confused just enough to negate the fact that I have been afraid every time an opposing quarterback dropped back to throw deep against the Cougars this season.
Jake Heaps has looked pretty good these last few weeks, but Utah did a great job of destroying Max Hall the last three years, and Hall also looked great against middling teams. I am willing to bet Utah's defense will focus on confusing Heaps and making the game too fast for the true freshman, while living with the results from J.J. DiLuigi, Josh Quezada and Bryan Kariya.
I'd like to see BYU play ball control, pound the football. In 2008, Harvey Unga had his way with the Ute defense, but Hall's five interceptions were enough to give Utah a convincing win. If Bronco and his staff realize that Heaps is not going to win this game on his own, and put the game on the backs of their... uh... backs, I like BYU's chances.
On defense, watch for a swarming defense against Utah's running game. Since Hill's firing, BYU's opponents have rushed for an average of 77 yards per game. I think the Cougar defense can handle a straight-ahead running attack, but we all know Utah loves using reverses and other trickeration to take advantage of that fact. BYU's defenders need to be aggressive, but stay home on their assignments to account for the trick play.
My prediction: BYU 24, Utah 21.
As is tradition, I'm running the Guess the Score contest again. Leave your prediction for the final score in the comments, along with how many total yards passing yards for Heaps.
The winner gets $10, in cash or as a gift certificate to Amazon.com.
Good luck all, and go Cougars!