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BYU Cougars vs. Arizona Wildcats Preview and Prediction

Taysom Hill

Taysom Hill

BYU and Arizona kick off their 2016 seasons in a late-night showdown Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium (home of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals) in Glendale, Ariz. This will mark the first game for BYU head coach Kalani Sitake, who is looking to get his tenure off to a fast start with a win over a Pac-12 school.

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Arizona enters year five of the Rich Rodriguez era in Tucson. The Wildcats have yet to lose a non-conference game under Rodriguez, but the Wildcats haven’t seen a quality non-conference program like BYU since they hosted a ranked Oklahoma State in 2012, Rodriguez’ first year. The first four years of Rodriguez’ tenure have been the most successful four-year stretch since the Desert Swarm days in the mid-90s.

Naturally, you’d assume that this game would be a huge home advantage for the team that is playing in its home state, that being the Wildcats. However, don’t be surprised if BYU ends up having more fans in Glendale as 25,000 Cougar faithful are expected to attend. Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne has made multiple public pleas to Wildcat fans to purchase more tickets as they have been behind BYU the entire time.

Get used to seeing BYU and Arizona play each other. This is the first of five scheduled games between the two schools over the next 12 years.

BYU vs. Arizona (Glendale, Ariz.)

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 3 at 10:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FS1
Spread: BYU -1.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Who starts at quarterback for Arizona?
One of the more surprising quarterback battles around the country was the sudden competition at Arizona between returning starter Anu Solomon and sophomore Brandon Dawkins.

Both quarterbacks are listed as co-starters on this week’s depth chart, and both have improved a lot in the offseason.

Does Wildcats head coach Rich Rodriguez feel Solomon is who he is, while Dawkins has a higher ceiling?  It’s an interesting question. Expect Solomon to get the first snaps against BYU, but don’t be surprised to see both quarterbacks play. The feeling around Arizona is that Dawkins has a higher ceiling, which is one of the reasons this competition opened in the first place.

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2. The return of Taysom Hill
When healthy, Hill is one of the most dynamic athletes in all of college football. The problem is that the senior quarterback hasn’t been able to stay healthy to make much of an impact on the field for BYU.

Hill, 26, is returning from a Lisfranc injury he suffered against Nebraska in the first of last season’s opener. He won the starting job over Tanner Mangum, who set freshman passing records at the school in relief of Hill last season.

New Cougars head coach Kalani Sitake and first-year offensive coordinator Ty Detmer are giving Hill the green light to be the superstar BYU fans expect him to be when he is on the field.

3. BYU offensive line vs. Arizona defensive line
The trenches are where any game is won and this particular matchup is no different. BYU’s new offensive line is taking an old-school approach as they move away from an up-tempo spread attack to a traditional pro-style and Pistol offense.

Arizona welcomes new defensive coordinator Marcel Yates from Boise State. The Cats are moving away from the 3-3-5 scheme that has been a staple for Rodriguez’ teams to a 4-2-5 attack that put Boise State in the top five in the FBS in takeaways a year ago.

It’ll be interesting to see how these two new lines fare in their new schemes. The average weight between the lines is eye-popping, as Arizona’s defensive line averages 250.4 pounds while BYU’s offensive line is at 308.6 pounds.

Final Analysis

In a weekend that is being touted as the greatest opening slates in the history of college football, BYU and Arizona will be an entertaining nightcap to close out the first Saturday of the season.

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Both teams are evenly matched and personnel-wise are built similarly. With the teams so evenly matched, the tiebreaker would be at quarterback and that favors Taysom Hill. Hill alone will make BYU competitive in a lot of games this season that they are underdogs in; his versatility gives him the chance to be the best player on the field. Ultimately, turnovers also will play a critical role in such an evenly contested game.

Prediction: BYU 33, Arizona 27

— Written by Mitch Harper, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Harper is publisher of Rivals' BYU site, CougarNation.com, and also is the BYU reporter and insider for 1320 KFAN and co-host of "The Cougar Center" podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mitch_Harper.