Game location: Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas, NV
Spread: -12 (BYU)
Head coach: Jedd Fisch
Fisch takes over after three hapless years from Kevin Sumlin in the desert. Fisch’s only other experience as a head coach came as an interim in 2017 for UCLA following the firing of Jim Mora. By all accounts, it seems like he has the Wildcats focused on the right things and is establishing a culture of success. Now, he just needs to win in a tough PAC-12 South division.
2020 season recap
2020 was a forgettable year for most of us but it may be more so for Arizona than any other football program in college football. They turned in a putrid 0-5 record, with the punctuation mark coming against their most bitter rival, Arizona State, who utterly destroyed them to the tune of 70-7. Only one of their five losses, against USC in Week 1, came by less than double digits. It was the only season in school history where they came away winless. Not surprisingly, Sumlin was promptly fired following the brutal loss to the Sun Devils.
Returning starters: 17 (8 offense, 9 defense)
2020 team rankings
Scoring offense: 118th
Total offense: 85th
Scoring defense: 120th
Total defense: 114th
Biggest strength- Offensive line
Left guard Donovan Laie is an NFL prospect. Six linemen return that have started at least one game for the Wildcats. This bodes well for Arizona in attempting to protect their quarterbacks as well as establish the run. Arizona’s one hope to win this game might be to stave off the Cougars’ pass rush long enough for their inexperienced quarterbacks to get comfortable.
Biggest weakness- Quarterback
It’s never a good sign when quarterback is listed as a weakness. Arizona announced they will deploy a two-quarterback system for their first game of the year against BYU. Gunner Cruz and Will Plummer will be “co-starters” heading into Vegas, having combined for four total games. Plummer got the most action last year, playing in three games. He was not effective, tossing for 388 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. The saying goes “if you have two quarterbacks, you have none.” That might apply here.
Best player- Stanley Berryhill III, WR
Not much production returns from an already punch-less offense in 2020. Berryhill was the top receiver from a year ago, leading the Wildcats with 227 yards and three touchdowns. As a three-year starter, he has amassed at least 218 yards and two touchdowns each year.
How BYU can win
Simply put, BYU should win this game barring disaster. How does a team let a far inferior team beat them? Mistakes. Turnovers. As long as BYU is even or better in the turnover margin, the Cougars should win. On the flip side, the defense should look to generate turnovers with a solid pass rush and tight coverage. BYU should be able to rattle both Wildcat quarterbacks.
The Cougars have a new quarterback themselves in Jaren Hall and a new offensive coordinator in Aaron Roderick. Normally, that would be cause for concern heading into the season’s first game. However, the Wildcats are dealing with a program-wide reset. As long as BYU can avoid turnovers or drive-killing penalties, they should not only win, but cover the 12-point spread.