BYU To Edge Out Arizona In Cactus Kickoff

BYU players during practice

Jay Pryce

Sunday, August 28, 2016 7:11 PM GMT

Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016 7:11 PM GMT

The BYU Cougars and Arizona Wildcats clash in the 2016 Cactus Kickoff at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale September 3rd. Both programs enter the season with some new leadership and lots of hope. Check out our NCAAF pick and preview here.

Arizona Wildcats
First, the good news, head coach Rich Rodriguez returns 16 starters, including quarterback Anu Soloman. The bad news, it’s a team that went 6-6 during the regular season, dropping well below NCAAF odds’ win-total of 7.5 games offered last year. Books aren’t expecting a ton of improvement in 2016 either, listing an over-under of 6.5 victories.

Solomon, though, can be a difference-maker. He missed nearly 11 quarters last season due to injury, yet the rising junior holds the fourth-most passing yards (6,460) and third-most passing touchdowns (48) in program history. What’s crazy is that he may share snaps with highly-touted sophomore Brandon Dawkins, after inconsistency and turnovers plagued Solomon when healthy. He and running back Nick Wilson need to find their 2014 form to push the offense beyond expectations.

It’s the defense that really stunk it up last season, allowing 37.7 points per game, 110th nationally. After such a dismal display, Rodriguez fired the entire staff and hired former Boise State D coordinator Marcel Yates to fix the unit.

Yates runs multiple schemes (4-2-5 and 3-3-5) and takes pride in his unit’s physicality. His Boise State nickel-packages picked off 22 passes last season, fourth most in FBS. Arizona averaged a measly 1.1 turnovers per game, again 110th nationally, and if Yates can get the secondary cautiously aggressive early, look for immediate improvement.

 

BYU Cougars
Kalani Sitake, a former defensive coordinator at Oregon State and Utah, takes the reigns at BYU as long-time head coach Bronco Mendenhall departed to Virginia following the team’s 35-28 defeat to state rivals Utah in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. The Cougars earned 10 straight winning seasons under Mendenhall, including five years with 10 wins or more, and return a strong group of players for the new man in charge.

Offensively, BYU is loaded. For one, they have two quarterbacks capable of running the team, each with unique strengths. Fifth-year senior Taysom Hill, the oft-injured dual-threat option, won the starting spot over sophomore Tanner Mangum, a dynamic passer who assumed the starter roll as a freshman after Hill went down for the year in the opener.  The former is 26-years old, and brings vast experience and leadership to the table, however. This will be his third year as a team captain.

BYU is 15-7 SU (10-11-1 ATS) with Hill tossing 10 or more passes in a game, including two lopsided wins over Big 12 powerhouse Texas in 2013 (40-21) and 2014 (41-7). The offense averages 29.7 points and 467 total yards with Hill under center. Fans are hoping for even better under new offensive coordinator and former BYU QB and Heisman winner Ty Detmer leading the unit.

Hill will operate behind a stacked offensive line, which includes returning starters Tejan Koroma, Ului Lapuaho and Brad Wilcox. Bruiser Algernon Brown, who averaged 5.6 yards per carry in 2015, leads the backfield, while 6-6 senior Nick Kurtz is the primary target at receiver.

Defensively, the Cougars return eight starters to a unit that allowed 4.8 yards per play, ranking 23rd in FBS. More than half these games occurred against Mountain West or AAC opponents; they allowed 6.1 yards in five contests versus Power 5 opponents.

Not including games against state rival Utah, BYU is 20-26 SU (21-25 ATS) against Pac foes since 1980. It has shown up to tough games as a short-priced dog of a field goal or less, going 4-1 SU and ATS.

 

Final Analysis
Arizona may struggle with Yates’ system early in the season, and an experienced BYU offense is not a great opening matchup. Both teams will move the ball, but the Cougars defense carries the day. BYU ML +100 is the free college football pick.

 

Free NCAAF Pick: BYU +100
Best Line Offered: at 5Dimes

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