While the state of Utah will definitely be tuning into Thursday’s Week 1 showdown between the Utah Utes and BYU Cougars, a lot of people will be interested in this matchup. Simply for viewing pleasure these are two in-state rivals (known as the “Holy War”) that really don’t like each other and both have big expectations going into 2019. It’s also being played on ESPN and is the last game on the board with kickoff at 10:15 EST.
Most books have Utah listed as a 5-point road favorite, but there is at least one book offering them at -4.5. The line opened with the Utes at -6.5, so early money has been on the home team. The total opened at 46.5 and is up to 48 at most places.
Click on the link for a full look at the Week 1 betting odds and for more links to our game previews.
Game Preview & Vegas Betting Odds: BYU vs Utah
You have to tip your cap to the job Kyle Whittingham and his staff did in 2018. Despite losing starting quarterback Tyler Huntley and leading rusher Zack Moss late in the year, Utah represented the Pac-12 South in the conference title game and only lost to Washington in the championship by a final score of 10-3. Utes ended the year at 9-5 after losing to Northwestern in their bowl game.
Heading into his 15th season as the head coach of Utah, Kyle Whittingham may just have his best team yet. And he’s had some pretty good teams over the years. The Utes will have 14 returning starters (7 offense, 7 defense). That includes both Huntley and Moss.
Phil Steele has Utah picked as his No. 1 surprise team in the entire country and is calling for a potential 12-0 season. That’s some pretty high praise and from a guy you have to respect (if you bet/handicap college football and don’t have a copy of the Phil Steele magazine. You are doing it wrong.). He loves the talent on the defensive line and on paper that unit looks nasty.
It’s not always easy getting excited about a 7-6 record, but BYU has to be feeling pretty good about how last year turned out. The Cougars didn’t let things spiral out of control after a 4-9 campaign in 2017. Their first losing season since 2004. They did all of this against a pretty tough schedule.
It’s easy to see why BYU would be optimistic heading into year four under head coach Kalahi Sitake. They bring back 17 starters (9 offense, 8 defense). That includes sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson, who people in Provo likely can’t stop talking about. Wilson pushed incumbent starter Tanner Mangum to the curb and would end up starting the final 7 games. He completed 66% of his attempts for 1,578 yards and had a 12-3 TD-INT ratio.
Just how good BYU’s season turns out will likely come down to the first 4 weeks of the season. After hosting Utah, they play at Tennessee before returning home to host USC and Washington.
Last year Utah defeated BYU 35-27 at home in the final game of the regular-season. While the Utes won the contest, the Cougars were the ones collecting at the window, covering as a 11-point dog. Utah has won an impressive 8 in a row in the series, but only one of the wins during this run have come by more than 8-points.
NCAA Football Predictions & Betting Free Pick: Utah -4.5
My early lean here would be to lay the points with Utah. As much I like the talent that BYU has coming back and the magic that can take place in front of your home crowd, the number here isn’t high enough for me to feel comfortable betting against the Utes.
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I get that the games have been close, but you can’t ignore the dominance that Utah has had over BYU. Not only did they beat the Cougars without Huntley and Moss, they also were in a massive lookahead spot with the Pac-12 title game against Washington on deck.
I also am not 100% sold on BYU. Sure they won at Arizona and at Wisconsin early last year, but the other 5 wins were against McNeese State, Hawaii, UMass New Mexico State and Western Michigan. Also worth pointing out that neither Arizona or Wisconsin were as good as we thought they were when they lost to BYU.
I know it’s nothing serious but Cougars quarterback Wilson did have minor shoulder surgery in the offseason, which kept him out of spring practices. He might be fine. He might not. I just think he’s in for a really rough day here against this defensive front of the Utes. Keep in mind Utah only gave up 2.9 yards/carry against the run, so Wilson has to be really good for them to have a chance.
One last little thing, Utah has been a covering machine out of the Pac-12, going 63-38 ATS in their last 101 non-conference games. Give me the Utes -4.5!