Game to be played at Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas, Nevada
Utah and BYU are even at odds on how many times they’ve met – the former says 95; the latter puts it at 89 – but the next edition of the Holy War will be waged in Sin City. The former conference foes whose long-standing rivalry has been on hold for the last two regular seasons, will clash for the first time in the postseason – and on a neutral field – Dec. 19 when they square off in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium. It’s no more than a brief flight or a 420-mile trip down Interstate 15 for both fan bases, and bowl organizers announced Dec. 7 that the game had sold out less than 24 hours after the matchup was set.
After spending much of the season with an unblemished record and eyeing the Pac-12 South Division title – and even a spot in the College Football Playoff -Utah suffered three losses in a five-game span starting Oct. 24, and will have to settle for playing in the Las Vegas Bowl for the second straight year. The Utes finished the regular season 9-3 – trailing only 11-2 Stanford in terms of the best overall record in the Pac-12 – and wound up 22nd in the final CFP rankings. “We had the best record in the South, overall, and the second-best record in the conference overall — we were tied with Oregon but we beat them head-to-head — so that being the case, and then being in the sixth bowl (in the Pac-12 pecking order), that was, that was unique,” coach Kyle Whittingham told the Salt Lake Tribune on Dec. 7. “So we’ll leave it at that, I guess. It was just how the cards unfolded.”
Whittingham’s counterpart will be coaching his final game at BYU. Bronco Mendenhall has accepted an offer to jump to Virginia and coach in a Power Five conference after a 99-42 11-year run in Provo which included 10 winning seasons and 11 bowl appearances. Each of the previous two BYU coaches, Gary Crowton (resigned in 2004) and LaVell Edwards (retired in 2000), also faced Utah in their final contests with the Cougars.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC.
LINE HISTORY: Utah opened as three point favorites and have been bet down slightly to the current number of -2.5. The total opened at 53.5 and has been bet down to 51.
BYU – TE B. Sampson (out for season, ankle) LB R. Sandlin (out for season, ankle), LB S. Takitaki (out for season, suspension), LB P. Amone (out for season, knee), QB T. Hill (out for season, foot), TE C. Jorgensen (out for season, neck), TE S. Richards (out for season, knee).
Utah – WR K. Scott (questionable Saturday, leg), WR B. Covey (doubtful Satuday, undisclosed), RB D. Booker (out Saturday, knee), QB C. Hansen (out for season, leg), WR T. Patrick (out for season, leg), TE E. Moeai (out for season, leg), DB J. Fogal (out for season, knee), TE S. Fakailoatonga (out for season, undisclosed), RB T. McCormick (out for season, knee), OL L. Falemaka (out indefinitely, abdominal), RB M. Brooks-Brown (out indefinitely, abdominal).
WEATHER REPORT: It is expected to be partly cloudy in Las Vegas Saturday, with temperatures in low 60’s at gametime. There will be a 10-14 mile per hour wind gusting towards the northern end zone.
WHAT CAPPERS SAY: “BYU is losing head coach Bronco Mendenhall to Virginia, but he will coach the Cougars in this game. However, it is a tricky situation, especially for the players who will be returning to BYU next season. They may tune Mendenhall out, and the distraction is enough to make BYU a fragile team. Utah has no such issues, and they’ll come with their best effort against an in-state rival. The Utes were considered a Top 10 team just two months ago, but they finished the season on a 3-3 SU / 1-5 ATS slide. Meanwhile, BYU finished strong, going 7-1 SU in their final eight games, including 2-0 ATS in their final two games while scoring 52 and 51 points. Those recent results have now caused Utah to be a much smaller favorite in this game.” Covers Expert Steve Merril.
ABOUT UTAH (9-3, 8-4 ATS, 6-6 O/U): The Utes are making the ninth bowl appearance in Whittingham’s 11 seasons and their second straight after back-to-back 5-7 seasons in 2012 and ’13. It’ll be their fifth appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl – but they won’t have leading rusher Devontae Booker (1,261 yards, 11 touchdowns), who suffered a season-ending knee injury Nov. 14 against Arizona, and might be without leading receiver Britain Covey (41 receptions-518 yards-four TDs), who missed the team’s regular-season finale with an ankle injury. Senior quarterback Travis Wilson (2,024 passing yards, 13 TDs, 10 interceptions) leads a Utah offense ranked 10th in scoring (30.2 points) and 11th in total yards (376.8) in the conference while All-Pac-12 first-team selections lineman Lowell Lotulelei, linebacker Paul Gionni and safety Marcus Williams headline a defense which allowed the second-fewest points (21.8) and yards (365.2) in the conference during the regular season.
ABOUT BYU (9-3, 5-7 ATS, 6-6 O/U): The Cougars, in their fifth straight season as an independent, are one of 11 FBS teams to be making at least their 11th consecutive bowl appearance, and it’ll be the program’s sixth Las Vegas Bowl and first since going 3-2 in the game from 2005-09. BYU started 2-2 but won seven of its final eight games, including back-to-back blowouts of Fresno State (52-10) and Utah State (51-28) to end the regular season. Tanner Mangum took over at quarterback in the season opener at Nebraska after Taysom Hill was lost to a season-ending fractured foot and has rewritten the school’s freshman passing record book while throwing for 3,062 yards and 21 TDs; the defense is allowing 21.8 points and 358.1 yards per outing and is led by senior end Bronson Kaufusi, who has totaled 11 sacks and 17 tackles for loss.
TRENDS:* Underdog is 14-3 ATS in the last 17 meetings.
* BYU is 1-5 ATS in the last six meetings.
* Under is 4-1 in Utah’s last five non-conference games.
* Under is 4-1 in BYU’s last five neutral site games.
COVERS CONSENSUS: Sixty-eight percent of Covers users are backing the Utes.