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BYU Cougars vs. Michigan Wolverines Preview and Prediction

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For just the second time in both schools' history, the BYU Cougars (2-1) and Michigan Wolverines (2-1) will meet at the Big House in what should be one of the more entertaining games in the early slate of games on Saturday.

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BYU is coming off of their first defeat of the season at the hands of UCLA, but the Cougars have been awfully impressive to begin the year, already beating the likes of Nebraska and Boise State. A one-point loss on the road against a potential playoff contender in the Bruins is nothing to scoff at.

Michigan has rebounded nicely since the opening loss at Utah, allowing a combined 14 points the past two games. The goal for the Wolverines against BYU will be getting a passing game that has lacked consistency on track before Big Ten play begins next week.

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BYU at Michigan

Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Michigan -6

Three Things to Watch

1. Continued Struggles for Rudock
It has been well-documented why Jim Harbaugh brought Rudock in from Iowa to be the starting quarterback for the Wolverines in 2015. The Michigan head coach puts a premium on taking care of the football, and that was considered to be one of the strengths that the fifth-year senior brought to the table. After throwing just five interceptions all of last year for the Hawkeyes, Rudock now has five interceptions through three games this season. Despite the lack of production, Rudock continues to have the support of his new head coach. “To be clear, Jake Rudock’s still the best quarterback,” Harbaugh said to local reporters. “Not by a small margin. He’s our best quarterback.” Taking care of the football will be paramount this week against a BYU defense that is tied for first in the country in interceptions with seven.

2. Chucking it
In the two games since Tanner Mangum took over as the starting quarterback, the Cougars have not been shy about throwing the football. Mangum is averaging 37 passes per game since taking over for the injured Taysom Hill, including 47 attempts against UCLA. Much of this is due to a lack of a rushing attack, but the offense has been tailored to fit Mangum’s strengths. Against the 14th-best rush defense in the country in Michigan that game plan is unlikely to change.

3. Major Recruiting Note

Rashan Gary, the No. 2 high school prospect in the country for 2016, confirmed earlier this week that he will be on an official visit to the Big House on Saturday. The list of schools after Gary is a mile long including the likes of LSU, Auburn, Georgia and a host of others. Gary has stated he will wait until February before making a commitment, but Michigan has a chance to make a very strong impression, and a win certainly helps the cause.   

Final Analysis

Combining Michigan’s seventh-ranked defense with a BYU defense that has the propensity to take the football away means a low-scoring affair is likely upon us. Look for Michigan to continue to feed De’Veon Smith and Ty Isaac with carries and force BYU to stop the run. Against this ball-hawking defense, Harbaugh will want to keep Rudock out of many third-and-long situations where he is forced to put it in the air.

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The big question for BYU is do they have enough "Mangum Magic" left in the tank as they conclude this rugged non-conference stretch? The early start time and home-field advantage for the Wolverines may wind up being the difference in this evenly-matched contest.

Prediction: Michigan 24, BYU 23

— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and current writer for CollegeFootballGeek.com. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.