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BYU Cougars vs. Utah Utes Point Spread - Pick

BYU Cougars (9-3 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. Utah Utes (9-3 SU, 5-7 ATS)
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
Date/Time: Saturday, December 19, 2015 at 3:30PM EST Where: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada
TV: ABC
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com

Point Spread: BYU +2.5/UTAH -2.5
Over/Under Total: 53.5

The BYU Cougars play the Utah Utes in the Las Vegas Bowl on December 19 at Sam Boyd Stadium. This is easily the premier matchup in the first day of the bowl season this Saturday. BYU was 9-3 on the season, winning 7 of their last 8, while covering 8 of 12 spreads this season. Two of their losses were by a combined five points and they represent a tough test for a Utah team that started fast, before fading a little. They lost two of three leading into this and would love a big win here to add the stamp of validity to this season. Both teams last played on November 28.

Utah certainly wasn’t picturing a December 19 bowl game when they were sitting at 6-0, ranked third in the country, and coming off wins over Michigan and ranked Pac-12 teams Oregon and Cal. It’s almost difficult now to remember their 62-20 rampage over Oregon, who later went on to have a pretty good season. But the Utah formula for success was a fragile one and once it was disrupted, it was hard to get back on the right track. At the end, a deep Pac-12 conference and the rigors of playing tough teams every week got to them. To end the season, they lost at Arizona, before suffering a home loss to UCLA. They at least ended the season on a winning note, beating Colorado, 20-14. They have covered the spread only once in their last 6 games, which does illustrate the letdown for Utah late this season. They certainly didn’t end with a bang.

BYU has been under-the-radar, but has really distinguished themselves as a top team this season. The season started with a bang, with a heavy front-loaded schedule. They became the first team to beat Nebraska in Lincoln in a home-opener in 29 years, before beating a then-ranked Boise State team. They ran into a tough Michigan team on the road in their 4th game, losing 31-0, before losing in heartbreaking fashion by a single point at UCLA. But then the wins piled up as their schedule eased up, with wins over Connecticut, East Carolina, Cincinnati, Wagner, San Jose State, Fresno, and a season-ending romp over Utah State. Their only loss in that stretch was a loss at Missouri, 20-16. They weren’t all that far from having a really special season.

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The Cougars have a sticky situation with Bronco Mendenhall already having taken the Virginia head coaching job. It’s not clear how that will resonate as they prepare to face their in-state rivals. He will be on the sideline for this game and we’ll see how it all resonates. It’s a bit of an awkward scenario for a team that really seemed galvanized, having been through so much this season—the injuries, the ability to thrive with backups all over the field, and the agonizing losses and triumphant wins. They’ve been through a lot and the leader is on his way out, donning the BYU colors for the final time.

Brigham Young overcame a lot this season. Taysom Hill was lost for the season, forcing Tanner Mangum into the starting role, where he’s been a pleasant surprise. The ground game had to go three-deep after injuries to their top two backs. And playmakers on the defense have also has their own injury issues to deal with. With 21 touchdowns and 7 picks with over 3000 yards, Mangum leads this offense and has been a real gamer, fighting with a lot of grit for his team.

Mangum works with a nice cast of receivers who provide matchup concerns with almost every defense they face, led by excellent Mitch Mathews, Devon Blackmon, Nick Kurtz, Terenn Houk, and Mitchell Juergens. Houk is 6’5,” while Mathews and Kurtz are 6’6.” They can be a handful to contain. The run game is now led by Algernon Brown, with Adam Hine getting back into the fold after being injured in late-September. The ground game has suffered with all the injuries, with Mangum’s aerial flair helping pick up the slack. They average 34.2 points per game.

The BYU defense is pretty good—a balanced group that gives up an average of just 21.8 points per game. They are pretty stiff against the pass and run and have playmakers across the field. Up front, Bronson Kaufasi is a difference-maker with 11 sacks, as he applies a ton of pressure. In the secondary, guys like Kai Nacua make plays. Macua has 6 picks, two of which he’s returned for scores. This “D” can make plays, having registered 37 sacks and 22 turnovers.

Utah will have to fend off a potential letdown spot here in this game. This is far from what they were envisioning. And their offense just couldn’t hold up. They will be without Devontae Booker, who had 1261 yards on the ground through 10 games before going down for the season. And the pass-game is stripped dry with injuries to Kenneth Scott (questionable) and Britain Covey (doubtful). That’s a huge bulk of their production not in there or at least heavily-compromised. This wasn’t an offense built to withstand those kinds of losses. Travis Wilson is a load at quarterback, but somewhat mistake-prone and heavily-reliant on a cast of playmakers that is now depleted. And with 29 combined points scored in their last two weeks, they looked pretty flat to end the season.

While they were exploited at times in an offense-heavy Pac-12, the Utah defense was the saving grace for this team in 2015. Up front, they really thrive, as they are the 6th ranked run-defense in the country. Giving up under 22 points a game on average with the schedule they’ve played is pretty remarkable. And they have even managed to hold up as their offense has hung them out to dry as the season wore on. They’ve made plays, with 19 picks and 10 recovered fumbles. And they can rush the passer, with 33 sacks on the season. LB Gionni Paul has 4 picks, while DB Marcus Williams has five.

The coaching situation with BYU elicits concern, but I’m not sure it overrides the injury and momentum problems occurring on the other sideline. Utah’s defense should control the game in stretches, but their offense could also languish. In the end, the greater playmaking ability of BYU will see them through to a cover and possible straight-up win.

Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the BYU Cougars plus 2.5 points.

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