Utah vs BYU: Underachievers looking for legitimacy
16 Wednesday Dec 2015
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BYU and Utah and two teams that are constantly looking for legitimacy. No championship is more questioned than that of BYU in 1984. Going 14-1 in 1996 wasn’t good enough for BYU to play in a top bowl, let alone a chance for the Championship. Utah never had a relevant season until they went undefeated in 2004. They repeated that in 2008, yet the BCS system picked two other teams to play for the championship. The BCS system ultimately failed to prove the chosen champion team was better than Utah in either 2004 or 2008.
Adjusting to a Greater Strength of Schedule
BYU and Utah have both adjusted to drastic changes in Strength of Schedule (SOS).
Utah entered the PAC12 and BYU went independent. Both have far stronger schedules now than they had in the Mountain West, though neither team has reached 10 wins against stronger schedules. This could be a 10 wins season for one of these two teams.
BYU did reach 10 wins early in their Independence, but against a schedule that was arguably weaker than their Mountain West schedules were.
In the PAC12, Utah has a much tougher schedule than they ever had in the Mountain West. Even when BYU, TCU, and Utah were all in the Mountain West and all winning a lot, the rest of the conference didn’t have enough respect. The Utes played ten Power 5 conference teams, nine in the PAC12 and Michigan. However, being in a Power 5 conference doesn’t guarantee quality games. Two of the PAC12 foes, Oregon State (2-10) and Colorado (4-8), were not quality teams this year. Utah also played Fresno State (3-9). However, Utah also played up and coming Utah State in non-conference. That means Utah had nine solid games that mattered.
As an independent, BYU’s schedule had a few weak years and has been far easier than Utah’s. But their SOS has been increasing and continues to increase as conferences such as the B1G, AAC, and SEC have all required their teams play a Power 5 team in non-conference play and these conferences have included BYU as a Power 5 team. If BYU were in a Power 5 conference, BYU would have played at least nine Power 5 teams. This year BYU played only four power 5 teams, but they also played Boise State, three AAC teams, and the vastly improved Utah State team, giving BYU nine respectable games out of 12. Unfortunately, BYU hasn’t been able to eliminate the FCS foes late in the season. This year, they played FCS Wagner. Next year BYU will play six Power 5 teams and they will also play four other teams, including at Boise State, that have winning records this year, giving them a potential of 10 solid games.
Despite both teams playing nine quality games, Utah’s schedule still had a huge SOS edge.
BYU’s 2015 Season
BYU is 9-3 but despite having a slightly better strength of schedule, they don’t have the same respect at 9-3 as Utah does.
BYU hangs their hat on two wins: Power 5 team Nebraska and Boise State. Nebraska only went 5-7 but lost many close games and beat Michigan State. Boise State ended 8-4 and did not play for MWC championship. The other 6 wins weren’t that impressive. BYU ended 1 – 3 against Power 5 opponents. The only team they played that ended the season ranked is Michigan and at 31-0, it wasn’t even close. There next best win was Cincinnati who ended the season 7-5, just above average.
Many argue BYUs win against Nebraska win was luck, but a counter argument is that BYU was solidly beating Nebraska before they lost both their best offensive player, quarterback and Heisman hopeful Taysom Hill, and their best defensive player, nose tackle Travis Tuiloma. Nebraska scored the next two drives with help from the run game that Tuiloma had shut down. Without those injures, BYU wins by double-digits, no Hail Mary needed. Still, BYU needed similar luck against Boise St, completing a 4th and 7 but it was with plenty of time, so it wasn’t a true Hail Mary.
Both of the games BYU hangs their hat on were games that weren’t expected to win: Nebraska and Boise State. With those two victories, the 1 point loss to UCLA could be have been forgiven. But the 31-0 drubbing by Michigan and the 20-16 ugly loss to 5-7 Missouri couldn’t.
Unranked (Neither overrated nor underrated)
They are in position #28 in the AP poll and position #35 in the coaches poll.
Why is 9-3 BYU not ranked? BYU was #18 before losing to UCLA by 1 and then getting destroyed 31-0 by Michigan. Then after another winning streak, BYU went into the Missouri game unranked but in position #26. If BYU would have beaten 5-7 Missouri or not thrown an interception when almost in field goal range against UCLA, they would be ranked as high or higher than Utah. But they didn’t. So they are ranked right where they belong. Unranked in position somewhere between #28 and #35.
Utah’s 2015 Season
Utah earned their #23 ranking with a 9-3 record thanks to a stingy defense. Their offensive looked impressive only once against an injured Oregon team.
Utah also hangs their hats on only two wins: 1 win against Michigan and a big win against Oregon. Then they shout “But we are in the PAC12.” PAC12 or not, their other 7 wins weren’t that impressive. Utah only played 1 other team ranked at the end of the season (USC) and lost giving up 42 points. There next best win was Washington State, who ended the season 8-4.
At 2-1 against ranked teams, Utah looks good. But step back and you notice that they played Michigan and Oregon at opportune times. Utah played Michigan at home the first game of the season, after a Michigan coaching and system change. The Michigan quarterback through 9 interceptions all season, and three of them were in the first game. Similarly, Utah played an injured Oregon team, with key losses such as their starting QB and no time to adjust to the backup QB. The Ducks threw two picks and fumbled once while Wilson had his only good and mistake free passing game of the year.
#22 (Correct to Overrated)
Utah is ranked in all three polls. CFP #22. #20 in the AP and Coaches poll.
Why is Utah ranked #22? The wins against Michigan and Oregon had everyone considering Utah legit. They reached #3 in the nation. Then they went 3-3, including a loss to Arizona (6-6). That loss is almost as ugly as the BYU loss to Missouri.
Without Booker, and considering the fortunate timing of their two signature wins, one is left to wonder: Should Utah even be ranked?
Under- or Over-Achievers?
Despite going 9-3, many have said that both teams underachieved.
Or did they?
BYU was predicted to go 0-4 in their first four games and instead went 2-2. They won every game they were supposed to win except one. Many predictions had BYU at six two eight wins this year. They won 9. That is overachieving.
Utah was predicted to be #7 in the conference and ended up tied for the PAC12 South and #4 in the conference, unfortunately losing the tie-breaker. The were passed over for the sixth bowl, but they finished 4th in the conference. That is called overachieving. It wasn’t until they reached #3 that their expectations were raised.
But looking at the season as a whole, both teams could easily have 1 or two more wins. Both lost close games to UCLA. Of course, if both of them had pulled out victories against UCLA, it wouldn’t look impressive for either. Both teams lost to a team they should have beat. BYU lost to 5 – 7 Missouri by 4. BYU’s fumble at their own 16 yard line gave Missouri the lead. Utah lost to a 6-6 Arizona team, somehow giving up 37 points.
How to Earn Legitimacy?
Win. Plain and simple.
Neither team can be conference champions. Utah tied in their division but lost the tie break. BYU isn’t even in a conference.
Utah already has legitimacy but it has been slipping fast. The Utes keeps it if they win.
BYU is reaching for legitimacy this year and needs this final win to grasp it.
The only season saving grace for each team is the possibility of reaching these coveted goals:
- A bowl victory
- A 10 win season
- Ending ranked in the final post bowl game polls
The loser likely gets none of those three things.
Utah gets all three with a win and might might still achieve #3 in some polls if they lose but lose close, but they would more than likely drop out of the top 25.
BYU likely only earns the first two goals with a win, but a final ranking in the top #25 is possible, especially in the AP poll where they are #28.
Why will BYU win?
Emotion: Utah feels this is a let down game and comes in cocky and expecting to win. BYU is up for the game and the hype of not having beaten Utah in many years has the Cougars playing their best.
Strengths vs weaknesses: Also BYU has a solid run defense and Utah is one dimensional and wins or loses on offense with the run. BYU is also one dimensional, but with the pass and Utah’s defensive strength is against the run, not the pass. The Utes struggled against good passing teams like USC. Utah also allowed 20 or more points against Fresno State, Orgeon, Cal, USC, Washington, and Arizona. Without Booker the Utes only scored 9 points against UCLA and 20 points against 4-8 Colorado. That is only 29 points in their final two games. If the Utes can’t score, BYU will get too many opportunities and Mangum will complete some of those deep ball to their three 6-5+ receivers.
Why will Utah Win?
Their front seven on defense and turnovers. Turnovers can change everything. Utah gets them in bunches. Watch for turnovers to help Utah shake off the loss of Booker and get a few touchdowns.
Missouri beat BYU by forcing a turnover on a sack at the BYU 16 yard line. Utah’s front 7 on defense is every bit as good and probably better than Missouri’s. Forcing a fumble on a sack is likely, especially if BYU tries to run slow developing pass plays or Utah’s defensive backs can shut down receivers.
BYU 23 – 18 Utah
Mangum plays smart and avoids interceptions. BYU calls shorter passing plays with quicker reads to avoid sacks and turnovers. BYU gets two touchdowns and three field goals to one interception. Utah can’t finish drives without Booker and gets one touchdown on a turnover and four field goals on offense. Utah’s Wilson is forced to throw the ball and is picked on the final drive with a chance to win the game.