Ever since the Mountain West football schedule was published in April, finalizing this convergence, I’ve been looking forward to Saturday.
Thanks to the visits of Stanford, Georgia Tech and Boise State, there never has been a day quite like this in Utah college football history.
The schedule is spoiled somewhat by Boise State’s having fallen out of the Top 25, Georgia Tech also losing twice and Utah State having lost quarterback Chuckie Keeton. Yet it remains a meaningful, much anticipated day for everybody from Logan to Provo. A look at the games, in chronological order:
Stanford at Utah, 4 p.m.
Stanford, the defending Rose Bowl champion, is the one visiting team that has fully lived up to expectations in 2013. The Cardinal (5-0) are ranked No. 5 and headed toward another November showdown with Oregon in the Pac-12 North.
The Utes (3-2) have lost both of their conference games, although they certainly could have beaten Oregon State and UCLA at the end. And they have a couple of things in their favor: They’re catching Stanford between the Cardinal’s high-profile games with Washington and UCLA, and they physically should match up well. The issue is whether the Utes can make the necessary plays in the fourth quarter to beat an opponent like this - or anybody in the Pac-12, for that matter. The pick: Stanford 28, Utah 24.
Georgia Tech at BYU, 5 p.m.
Last October in Atlanta, BYU delivered the best defensive performance against a top-tier BCS offense that I’ve ever witnessed. The Cougars held Georgia Tech to 117 rushing yards in a 41-17 victory, not allowing an offensive touchdown. That was the day I should have realized Ziggy Ansah was a genuine phenomenon, even if he was not the only BYU defender making big-time plays.
In any case, the Cougars’ effort drove home something I’ve always believed about defending the option: Either you can stop it, or you can’t. In other words, it becomes evident after a quarter or so whether a defense is equipped to deal with that scheme. BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall seems to have a knack for it, judging by the Cougars’ play against Air Force in the Mountain West era.
The Cougar defense and special teams basically created 14 points of their own last October, but BYU’s offense did its part too. If that’s the case Saturday, the Cougars should win again. The pick: BYU 31, Georgia Tech 21.
Boise State at Utah State, 6 p.m.
It really would have been fun to see Keeton lead USU against the Broncos, who were shredded by the talented offenses of Washington and Fresno State. It would be shocking if USU could score in the 30s with Craig Harrison or Darell Garretson at quarterback. Boise State’s offense is coming around, but I also don’t picture the Broncos matching the 31 points that BYU scored in Logan last week, because that production partly stemmed from USU’s breakdowns that should be fixed.
So Boise State should not overwhelm the Aggies, but it’s just asking a lot of an unproven quarterback to step in and beat the Broncos. It might be up to BYU in two weeks, if anybody’s going to end Boise State’s domination of Utah schools, now at 20 consecutive games. The pick: Boise State 28, Utah State 21.
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