Utah (9-3) vs BYU (9-3)
When: Saturday, December 19th 2015
Where: Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, NV
Time: 3:30 ET | TV: ABC
Sin City will be the host of this edition of the Holy War between the Utah Utes and BYU Cougars. It will be the 89th or 95th time they’ve met – depending on which school you ask. The former conference foes have not met in two years and this will be the first time they’ve met on a neutral field. Utah’s season started out terrific, going 6-0 and eyeing not only a PAC 12 South title, but a shot at the College Football Playoff. Then they ran into a hot USC team and preceded to lose three of their last six games. The Utes are not very happy with their Bowl selection. They finished with the second best overall record in the PAC 12, but got the sixth bowl (in the PAC 12 pecking order). The Utes are making the ninth bowl appearance in head coach Kyle Whittingham’s 11 seasons and their second straight after back-to-back 5-7 seasons. It’ll be their fifth appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl, but they won’t have star running back Devontae Booker (1,261 yards, 11 touchdowns), who suffered a season-ending knee injury November 14th against Arizona. Utah could also be without leading receiver Britain Covey (41 receptions, 518 yards, 4 TDs), who missed the team’s regular-season finale with an ankle injury. Senior quarterback Travis Wilson, who has 2,024 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, leads a Utah offense that ranked 10th in the conference at 30.2 points per game.
BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall, who will coach his final game for the Cougars, has accepted an offer to jump to Virginia and coach in a Power Five conference after a 99-42 record in 11 years in Provo which included 10 winning seasons and 11 bowl appearances. The Cougars, in their fifth straight season as an independent, are one of 11 FBS teams to be making at least their 11th consecutive bowl appearance, and it’ll be the program’s sixth Las Vegas Bowl. BYU started the season out 2-2 but won seven of its final eight games, including back-to-back blowouts of Fresno State (52-10) and Utah State (51-28) to end the regular season. The BYU defense has been very strong in the second half of the season holding opponents to 20 points or less in four of their last five games. They are allowing 21.8 points a game overall, which ranks 31st in the country. Senior defensive end Bronson Kaufusi has 11 sacks and 17 tackles for loss to lead the unit. Tanner Mangum took over at quarterback in the season opener at Nebraska and completed a Hail Mary to win the game after Taysom Hill was lost to a season-ending fractured foot. Mangum has thrown for 3,062 yards and 21 touchdowns – the most by a BYU freshman in the program’s history.
If this was week 3 or 4 of the regular season, I would take Utah in a heartbeat, but its all about how you’re playing entering a bowl game. Mangum has grown up quick and the BYU defense is playing well. I like the Cougars in this one.
Pick: BYU +2.5