Utah State is basically in Utah’s position of two years ago. Utah and BYU are about where they were last year.
So the Aggies have a lot to play for Saturday when they close the regular season, while the Utes and Cougars just need to avoid the embarrassment of losing. A closer look:
Wyoming at Utah State
USU plays the state’s most important game of the weekend, hosting the Cowboys with a chance to win a Mountain West division title and advance to the conference championship game at Fresno State next week. Utah had a similar opportunity in the Pac-12 in 2011, being heavily favored at home against Colorado, but lost 17-14.
Much like that Ute team, the Aggies have won four straight games with a backup quarterback after standing 3-4. USU freshman Darell Garretson struggled in a 13-0 win over Colorado State last week, but otherwise he has played well.
The Aggie defense shut down Colorado State’s running game but will be tested by Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith, who passed for 498 yards and seven touchdowns in a 59-56 overtime defeat of Hawaii. Regardless, USU should be able to outscore Wyoming. On the past two Thanksgiving weekends in Logan, the Aggies celebrated bowl eligibility in 2011 and an outright Western Athletic Conference title in 2012, and they should enjoy another achievement Saturday. The pick: Utah State 42, Wyoming 24.
Colorado at Utah
Some would say this is a meaningless game and others would scoff about how it is part of the Pac-12’s rivalry weekend. I know this: Utah-Colorado was the most entertaining game I witnessed last season, under the same circumstances. The Utes took a 42-35 victory in Boulder, with a kickoff return providing the last touchdown for each team.
More offensive production should be in store at Rice-Eccles Stadium. This is an opportunity for Adam Schulz to establish himself as Utah’s No. 1 quarterback going into the offseason, although many variables would remain in play. On the other side, Utah’s secondary was exploited by Washington State last week. Colorado freshman QB Sefo Liufau is not at the level of WSU’s Connor Halliday, but he has produced some big numbers since taking over the job.
The loser will finish last in the Pac-12 South. That’s enough incentive for both teams. The pick: Utah 35, Colorado 24.
BYU at Nevada
This matchup is not quite like BYU’s trip to New Mexico State to close the 2012 regular season, but it’s close. Nevada has been a disappointment in the Mountain West and likely will be overwhelmed by a BYU offense that has thrived against inferior competition. In other words, quarterback Taysom Hill should do to Nevada what James Lark did to NMSU last November.
BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy will be highly motivated in a homecoming appearance. The result will be an overall performance that will make the Cougars wonder why they couldn’t have done better against Wisconsin and Notre Dame this month. The pick: BYU 50, Nevada 28.