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BYU Cougars vs. Arizona Wildcats Prediction and Preview

Arizona Wildcats QB Khalil Tate

Arizona Wildcats QB Khalil Tate

An under-the-radar game that not many people are buzzing about nationally, but BYU vs. Arizona has the makings of some potential #Pac12AfterDark action. The nightcap in Week 1 between the Cougars and Wildcats out in the desert has the potential to be really fun as it pits two teams that are looking to have bigger and better years than what they put out in 2017.

BYU at Arizona

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 1 at 10:45 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Spread: Arizona -11.5

Three Things to Watch

1. The Kevin Sumlin era kicks off in Tucson

Sumlin is a perfect fit in the desert with the Wildcats. This is a program that has always fought the battle of being second fiddle to the powerhouse basketball program that resides in Tucson. But Sumlin looks to bring an exciting brand to Arizona football and he inherits a team that boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the sport and a talented roster that could potentially win the Pac-12 South title.

Game 1 against BYU will be a tone-setter for the Wildcats and it’s one that gives Sumlin the opportunity to win over the fan base more than he already has in the offseason.

2. QB Khalil Tate begins his Heisman campaign

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Tate is as dynamic of a player as anyone in college football. I would argue he’s the best quarterback in the Pac-12 entering the 2018 season. The bowl performance against Purdue last year showed Tate is capable of putting up big plays through the air by tossing for more than 300 yards. Pair the improved passing attack with his elite running ability, Tate looks poised for a big year in 2018 and he’s a legit Heisman Trophy contender.

Sumlin has had success with great quarterbacks over the years from Johnny Manziel to even Drew Brees during Sumlin’s time at Purdue. Tate is a perfect fit with Sumlin and I think he will have huge production against BYU’s defense that has had more questions arise the past month during fall camp than answers.

3. BYU QB Tanner Mangum looks to win Cougar fans over

BYU had a historic quarterback battle this offseason. Mangum, a senior, won the job over true freshman Zach Wilson, who pushed his more seasoned teammate every step of the way. Some in the BYU fan base are skeptical of the decision, feeling it was the safe move. But new offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes stated that Mangum won the job and he earned it. Now Mangum has the tall task of trying to get his win as a starter against a Power 5 program. Currently, Mangum is 0-7 against P5 teams and is 10-10 all-time as a starter.

Mangum is a better fit in Grimes' and passing game coordinator Aaron Roderick’s offense so I expect better production than a season ago, but will it be enough to keep up with Tate and Arizona's attack?

Final Analysis

Arizona should have a huge year in 2018 with Kevin Sumlin and Khalil Tate in place. But, Arizona’s defense was brutal last season giving up 34 points per game a season ago, which ranked them 10th in the Pac-12. BYU, who had one of the worst offenses in college football last year, will be able to score points against the Wildcats, but Arizona is going to put up points as well.

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The Cougars will keep this closer than the sharks in Vegas are saying right now, but Tate and company will be too much for BYU to contain with the Wildcats ultimately coming away victorious in the first game of the Sumlin era.

Prediction: Arizona 33, BYU 24

— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is BYU Insider for ESPN 960 Sports and Publisher of Cougar Nation, part of the Rivals network. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.