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Arizona Wildcats vs. BYU Cougars Point Spread - Pick

Arizona Wildcats (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) vs. BYU Cougars (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS)
College Football Week 1
Date/Time: Saturday, September 3 ,2016 at 10:30PM EST
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
TV: Fox Sports 1
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

Point Spread: ARIZ -1/BYU +1
Over/Under Total: 62.5

On the first Saturday of the college football season, the Arizona Wildcats take on the BYU Cougars at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.

The Wildcats are coming off a 7-6 season and look to upgrade their standing in the Pac-12. A good start would be to beat a BYU team coming off a 9-win season. Arizona looks to have a strong offense, but can their defense keep pace? And against a team with a capacity for the dramatic in BYU, they will have a lot of menace on their hands. Who comes out ahead in this week one battle?

Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez returns a lot of talent on offense, namely QB Anu Solomon and RB Nick Wilson. Neither was great last season and they’re looking for both to reclaim their prior form this season. And of course, there’s a ton of work to do on the other side of the ball. BYU is now without head coach Bronco Mendenhall, but they now have more a down-home vibe with former player Kalani Sitake, who hired 8 former BYU players as assistants, including new offensive coordinator and former Cougars star QB Ty Detmer. BYU returns 15 starters, has a wealth of talent at QB, and looks for big things in ’16.

There weren’t many more-exciting teams to watch than the Cougars last season. Time and again, they found themselves locked in fierce battles where they usually came out ahead. They showed a ton of character is soldiering through what seemed like an endless litany of injuries. First, QB Taysom Hill went down for the year early, forcing Tanner Mangum into action. Mangum thrived and kept the BYU offense moving. A QB battle is now being waged, one that still hasn’t been decided as of press time. Having two proven starters is a nice luxury to have.

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Detmer will utilize more pro-formations and look for him to air it out. A big assist would be if Jamaal Williams could remain healthy. BYU was scraping the bottom of the barrel with backs unable to stay healthy last season. And they did lose some of their key players from the receiving crew. They have some nice pieces coming back, like the Juergen twins and Colby Pearson. Nick Kurtz and his 6’6” frame will also be back, though a foot injury suffered in practice could limit his early-season production.

Look for BYU to field a defense that could be really good. Travis Tuiloma is a game-changer and along with Sae Tautu, Tomasi Laulilie, and Sione Takitaki, they could be a tough group up-front. Fred Warner and Harvey Lang commandeer the middle and should be more than adequate. Lang is really a player and does a little bit of everything. The secondary has some spots to fill and is looking for consistent performers, but Michael Davis is a fine corner and Troy Warner should make a difference.

Coach Rodriguez, again, is looking for his offense to take a step forward this season. Solomon was so promising as a freshman, before having a ragged sophomore campaign in ’15. That led to Rodriguez reopening the QB battle, with Brandon Dawkins getting hard enough of a look that as of press time, Rodriguez is still mum on the matter. Injuries and inconsistent play also spoiled the sophomore campaign of RB Nick Wilson, who was one of the top newcomers in the nation the previous season with 1375 yards on the ground. But unlike BYU, the Arizona receiving corps looks fairly well-stocked, with Samajie Grant, Trey Griffey, and Nate Phillips. The line returns a bunch of experienced talent, though they suffered a major blow that extended beyond a mere personnel loss when center Zach Hemmila passed away on August 8. One should expect this unit to be pretty good, as they honor their fallen teammate in what was an unspeakable tragedy.

The job of straightening out a wayward Arizona defense falls on the shoulders of former Boise coordinator Marcel Yates. Time and again, we see a potentially interesting Arizona team undermined by defensive ineptitude. Up-front, the personnel doesn’t seem to be there on paper. Michael Barron comes in from Cal and looks to give a linebacker crew a boost. Paul Magliore and DeAndre Miller hope to be better this season. The secondary looks a bit better with a good corner in Davonte Neal and FS Tellas Jones. This is a revamped group that might need time to get rolling.

This game has more of a home-feel for Arizona, with the stadium being two hours from their base in Tucson. But this is the same BYU team that went into Lincoln in last season’s opener and beat Nebraska, the first time the ‘Huskers had been beaten in a home opener in 29 seasons. In other words, one shouldn’t expect Brigham Young to be flummoxed by the locale of this game.

Both teams have things to iron out on both sides of the ball. With Arizona, however, there may be more outstanding problems. They are looking for answers at quarterback, while BYU has abundance at that position. Arizona needs a lot of players to develop and all of them aren’t going to. Going into last season, QB and RB play were non-issues for Arizona and they now are, in addition to a defense that hasn’t had its footing for quite some time. New defensive coaching will need to find something, while the talent on offense needs to truly materialize.

The hire of Sitake and his subsequent stocking the staff with former players gives this BYU team a nice vibe, which has been evident in practice. Sitake’s knowledge of the culture and being the first Tongan head coach in the FBS should resonate with this team. It helps that he steps into a good situation with ample talent and experience on both sides of the ball. And he’ll need it, with the early-season schedule only getting tougher from here.

Not to over-simplify things, but sometimes you need to look at games with an almost-childlike perspective. Which team would you rather be on? On BYU, we see potential being realized more often than not. We see them coming up with answers in games more often than not. With Arizona, we see talent not manifesting properly. We see a lot of questions not being answered in the affirmative. They certainly have talent on offense and that can come around and turn into real firepower. And maybe a new look and leadership on the “D” can help. I just see BYU as the more-finished product, with more proven producers. Getting a point, the Cougars stand out as a pretty solid pick.

Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the BYU Cougars plus one point.

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