The calendar turns to September next week, which means college football is near. BYU kicks off their 2021 season on September 4 in Las Vegas against Arizona, the first game of the post-Zach Wilson era.
Expectations are high following an 11-1 season and finishing 11th in the final AP poll. However, there is plenty of turnover on the Cougars’ roster as well as a much tougher schedule looming. Expecting another 11-win season may be setting yourself up for disappointment, especially given the seven Power 5 teams on the schedule.
Let’s dive into the meaty 2021 schedule and make some picks, with the aid of Phil Steele’s power rankings. BYU comes in at No. 38 on his list.
vs. Arizona* (in Las Vegas)
PS (Phil Steele) ranking: 105
Arizona is as desperate as anyone to put 2020 in the rearview mirror and turn over a new leaf. They limped to an 0-5 record including a 70-7 whooping at the hands of their biggest rivals, Arizona State. Now, with a new head coach in Jedd Fisch, hope is alive for a brighter future.
The Wildcats ranked 114th in team defense and 120th in points allowed last season. Logic would suggest BYU should move the ball well against them. With a new offensive coordinator and new quarterback to break in, the Cougars might not be as explosive as fans want. Still, they should beat Arizona, who hasn’t had a winning season since 2017.
BYU 24, Arizona 20
PS ranking: 15
After the pandemic blew up the 2020 matchup, the Utes and Cougars lock horns once again. The bitter rivalry has gone Utah’s way for nine straight meetings, with BYU’s last win in 2009. The Utes always bring the defense. Their biggest question mark is quarterback play. Charlie Brewer just became the official starter.
At this point, given some of the frankly inexplicable ways the Cougars have found to lose the Holy War, it might be safer to assume a loss until proven otherwise, even if BYU appears to be the better team.
Utah 27, BYU 20
vs. Arizona State
PS ranking: 20
This game has #PAC12AfterDark written all over it. Both teams know how to score points as the Cougars ranked ninth in scoring last season and the Sun Devils checked in at 12th. The one difference is that Arizona State returns their stud quarterback in Jayden Daniels while former Cougar Zach Wilson begins his NFL career and they will start afresh with a new signal caller. The Sun Devils return the most production out of any PAC-12 team. Head coach Herm Edwards will have his team ready to play when they come to Provo. This might be as tough of a test as Utah. Buckle up.
ASU 34, BYU 30
vs. South Florida
PS ranking: 108
The Florida revenge tour continues. BYU won their first game in the state of Florida in the 2020 Boca Raton Bowl against UCF. Now the Cougars get a chance to avenge their 2019 loss to the Bulls, this time, at home. USF has been down recently, going 5-16 in the last two seasons. The Bulls ranked 125th in team defense last season. The Cougars’ offense should feast, and Jaren Hall will get a prime opportunity at revenge for the loss two seasons ago.
BYU 37, USF 20
@ Utah State
PS ranking: 113
BYU restored order against Utah State in 2019, handing them a 42-14 thumping in Logan. Much like the Utah game, the Aggies and Cougars missed out on renewing the rivalry last year. Blake Anderson takes over as head man and he has a project ahead of him. The Aggies 123rd in total offense and 120th in total defense last season and may be breaking in a new quarterback. This is a prime opportunity to establish a winning streak against the Aggies.
BYU 38, USU 21
vs. Boise State
PS ranking: 39
This is a case of whoever is the host team should win, it could be that close. Between Hank Bachmeier and former USC transfer Jack Sears, the Broncos have solid options at quarterback. The biggest question is how the team will respond to first-year coach Andy Avalos, as former head man Bryan Harsin left for Auburn after seven seasons in Boise. There is lots of turnover in Bronco Land but that has never stopped them from churning out solid football teams before. This game will come down to the last few possessions and home field advantage at LaVell Edwards Stadium could play a factor.
BYU 27, BSU 24
PS ranking: 67
This marks BYU’s first true road game outside of the state of Utah for the 2021 season. While Baylor was down last year, they are only two seasons removed from an 11-3 campaign that saw them reach the Big 12 title game in 2019. Gerry Bohanon is the starting quarterback in Waco. Given the nature of a road game in Big 12 territory and a team hungry to turn it around, things could get weird. Just about every team has a game they know they should’ve won, and this could be it for BYU.
Baylor 34, BYU 28
PS ranking: 57
WAZZU is just 7-10 since their magical 11-win season in 2018. Former Tennessee Volunteers starter Jarrett Guarantano challenges incumbent starter Jayden de Laura at quarterback. Head coach Nick Rolovich enters his second year, but frankly, the 2020 season was a lost cause in the PAC-12. This is his first fair shake at the job. They return 18 starters including 10 on defense. They will be much improved, but BYU should be able to move the ball against Washington State’s defense that has not ranked higher than 109th in yards allowed the last two seasons.
BYU 33, WAZZU 30
PS ranking: 77
The reluctant reunion is finally happening. After 11 seasons at the helm at BYU, Bronco Mendenhall took over at Virginia in 2016. The Cavaliers have enjoyed unprecedented success under Mendenhall, culminating in 2019 with a trip to the ACC title game and a New Year’s Six bowl bid to the Orange Bowl, the school’s first ever BCS/NY6 bowl. They typically have a solid defense, Bronco’s specialty. Along with Mendenhall, it’s a homecoming of sorts for offensive coordinator Robert Anae and defensive coordinators Kelly Poppinga and Nick Howell, all former BYU coaches or players. BYU gets the advantage for being at home, 2,000 miles away from Charlottesville.
BYU 27, Virginia 20
vs. Idaho State
PS ranking: N/A
Not much analysis is required to paint the picture against the Bengals. BYU is 6-0 all-time against Idaho State including a 42-10 whipping in 2019. This should be a tune up for two big road games to finish the 2021 season. Make sure to play all the seniors.
BYU 59, ISU 14
@ Georgia Southern
PS ranking: 94
This is the first ever meeting between Georgia Southern and BYU. However, the Cougars are not unfamiliar with Sun Belt opponents, playing three last year. The Eagles return 16 starters from a solid 8-5 campaign in 2020 including their third straight trip to a bowl game. They are no slouches, despite the lack of name recognition. They are replacing a four-year starter at quarterback. With Allen E. Paulson Stadium holding just 25,000 in Statesboro, 2,100 miles from Provo, along with a trip to USC looming, the Cougars will need to be vigilant to avoid a let-down.
BYU 27, GSU 23
PS ranking: 11
The Trojans have revenge on the mind after their upset loss in Provo in 2019 at the hands of Zach Wilson. This team may be even better than the one that came to Provo ranked No. 24. Quarterback Kedon Slovis suffered his first loss as a starter at LaVell Edwards Stadium and he would love nothing more to avenge it. They return 16 starters from a solid, albeit brief, 2020 campaign that saw them go 5-1 with a trip to the PAC-12 title game. This season they begin the year at No. 15 in the AP Poll. With a veteran QB and head coach along with tons of experience up and down the roster, USC will easily be BYU’s stiffest test of the entire season.
USC 30, BYU 20
2021 record: 8-4