College football is all about the rivalries, and in the Beehive State, none is bigger than the Holy War. Beating out your chief opponent every year is the top priority for most programs to ensure bragging rights for the next 364 days. But when said rivalry game opens the season, it means all that much more. Welcome to No. 14 Utah vs. BYU on Thursday night.
Of the two, Utah enters with the loftier expectations as the Utes are pegged to win the Pac-12 and even have some trendy College Football Playoff crashing aspirations. However, the best way to go from underrated to overrated is to lose in Week 1. And no opponent would gladly oblige with this switch quite like BYU, though its success against the Utes over the last handful of years has been suspect. As such, here's what to expect from Thursday's game.
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BYU: It's a bit of a stretch to say BYU's season hinges on beating Utah, but there is a sense of significance to this game right out of the gate. For one, it's been a full decade since the Cougars last knocked off their Holy War rivals (the last win came in Provo in 2009). But BYU also has an absurdly difficult schedule. Beyond Utah is Tennessee, USC, Washington and Toledo -- and that's just in September. Wins are not going to come easy, so setting a tone in Week 1 is huge.
The simple point being, BYU could use a win against the Utes. It would also be a building-block moment for a team that returns some experience on both sides of the ball, but that could use a boost.
Utah: What's the verdict on Utah? It's hard to say exactly. The preseason Pac-12 media poll tabbed the Utes to win the conference this season. And, yet, the national media doesn't seem to have quite caught up. At No. 15, Utah is two spots behind Washington and four spots behind Oregon in the preseason AP Top 25 poll. Not that preseason votes mean anything, but there's a bit of a disconnect in terms of what we expect from this team.
The BYU game will be a decent litmus test. We can guess Kyle Whittingham's team will have a solid defense and DL Leki Fotu has All-American potential with NFL draft buzz to boot. With quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss anchoring an underrated backfield, Utah figures to be a tough team to stop, too. Rivalry games can produce any number of results, but a loss in Week 1 would definitely cool some of the trendy Utes chatter.
Date: Thursday, Aug. 29 | Time: 10:15 p.m. ET
Location: LaVell Edwards Stadium -- Provo, Utah
TV: ESPN | Live stream: WatchESPN.com
Game prediction, picks
Even though Utah has won the last eight, there's only been one blowout: 54-10 Utes in 2010. Outside of that outlier, the Holy War has been a single-possession game. I'd expect the same here with BYU at only +5.5. Admittedly, I'm a fan of this Utah team. They'll be a punishing group that's no fun to play at all. But BYU will be jacked and ready to prove something. Give me a home dog almost every time in this situation. Pick: BYU +5.5
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