Kragthorpe: BYU, Utah face tell-tale opponents this weekend
Other than the game they played against one another in Provo in September, judging the relative football success of Utah and BYU is not easy these days.
They basically live in different worlds, with Utah having the Pac-12 Conference as an obvious frame of reference and BYU being more ambiguous with its independent schedule.
Regardless, this weekend's games will tell us a lot about where these teams are headed in 2013, as BYU (5-2) hosts Boise State tonight and Utah (4-3) visits USC on Saturday afternoon. The coincidence is that each team will be off next week, so the good or bad feelings will linger.
You could make a case that neither team needs to win this weekend to reach a minimum standard this season, particularly in the case of bowl eligibility. But if the Cougars and Utes want to truly distinguish themselves, this is a great opportunity.
That's because Boise State and USC are brand names in college football, with considerable cachet. The current models are not all that great, but there's still value in beating them.
Competing theories are in play for Utah at the Coliseum. The Utes went 5-1 the past two seasons against schools that would fire their coach at the end of the year, or already had done so. And now they face USC with an interim coach. Then again, the Utes are 3-7 on the road as conference members, and each of those road wins required some good breaks. They're also only 3-9 against Pac-12 South schools.
Utah should match up well with USC's physical nature, much like the Stanford game. The biggest variable is the health of these teams; Utah may have an edge if quarterback Travis Wilson's passing hand is fully functional.
The pick: Utah 21, USC 17.
Judging by Fresno State's 41-40 win over Boise State, BYU's offense has a good chance of sustaining its momentum. If quarterback Taysom Hill has another efficient game, he will have established himself as a genuine passer with even bigger stages to come at Wisconsin and Notre Dame next month.
BYU's defense will have to do two things well: limit Boise State's inside running game and tackle well on the perimeter. With fill-in quarterback Grant Hedrick, the Broncos will complete a lot of short passes, so the Cougars will have to make tackles that prevent the kind of big plays that Houston produced last weekend.
If that happens, the Cougars should win a fifth straight game.
The pick: BYU 35, Boise State 24.